“The 4 Types of Soil & How to Improve Our Own” — 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year A

On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

Despite all the changes and developments over these past two thousand years, the parables of Jesus Christ still hold up. Not only is the imagery in his parables still relatable today, but the lessons of his parables remain true. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about a sower who sows across four different types of ground. The Gospel’s authors, namely St. Matthew and the Holy Spirit, go on to make the interpretation of this parable easy by including Jesus’ own explanation.

Jesus says, “The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the Word of the Kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the Word and receives it at once with joy.  But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the Word, he immediately falls away.  The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the Word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the Word and it bears no fruit.  But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the Word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

And so, what is sown by the sower, so generously and so far and wide, is “the Word of the Kingdom.” And the four kinds of ground it touches denote four types of would-be disciples. What is this “Word of the Kingdom?” Jesus gives no precise definition for it in these passages, but I think it can be taken in various senses, all of them true: It is the Good News about the Kingdom of God Jesus was preaching. It is God’s Word revealed in both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition through Christ’s Catholic Church. And the Word of the Kingdom is the Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ himself, the fullest revelation of God the Father. When people encounter God’s word in these forms, they have four kinds of reactions:

The first (the path) are those who hear without understanding. They, like the footpath, are hardened against the message. Perhaps they do not want to understand it. Some people ask hard questions about our Faith in order to understand—and that is very good, for whoever asks, receives and whoever seeks, finds. However, many people ask religious questions only in order to criticize, mock, and comfortably continue in their unbelief. If you are ever in a religious conversation with a friend, relative, or co-worker and you sense that they are this latter sort, I recommend calling them on this attitude. “Are you asking so that can understand, or so that you can have an excuse not to listen?” This is important, because until their hardened will opens there is no crack for the seed to enter in, and they are easy pickings for the evil one.

The second (the rocky ground) are those who hear the Word and initially receive it with joy. But since they have no deep root they last only for a time and wither away. Some of this rocky ground are those who were raised Catholic but never developed a mature relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church. Those who attempt to weather this adult world of ours with only, say, a grade-schooler’s knowledge and practice of the Faith, will likely fail in the heat of temptation and trial. If you and your family are going to remain Catholic Christians these days we cannot stay shallow.

The third (the thorny soil) are those who hear the Word, and it begins to grow in them, but it does not grow alone: worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the Word and it bears no fruit. As Jesus said, ‘no one can serve to masters at the same time.’ You cannot say “Yes” to Jesus and “Yes” to your fears or “Yes” to your selfishness A “Yes” to Jesus demands a liberating “No” to many lesser things. Until we do that, we will not be truly fruitful as Christ wills us to be.

Finally, the fourth (the rich soil) hears the Word and understands it, says “Yes” to it and indeed bears fruit, yielding a many-fold return. It is a blessing to itself and others and a great joy to the Sower.

Jesus’ four varieties of ground describe four types of people. I suspect that in the end one of these will describe the prevailing theme of our lives. And yet, we know that soil types can change. You you grew up on a farm, you probably remember your father sending you out into the field to pick stones. This wasn’t just make-work; your father did this to make the rocky soil more fruitful. If you’re a gardener, you know what happens if good soil is left untended—you’ll soon be pulling weeds. Soil can change; sinners can convert into saints, and the righteous can fall.

We can change the sort of soil we are over our lifetime, but to a lesser extent we can also change throughout the hours of our day. In the same day, I can be hardened against God’s will, superficial towards God and other people, or dominated by fear or selfishness, and then turn to bear fruit in Christ. But how can I change the kind of soil we are throughout our lives and throughout our days? You can’t do it alone, but God won’t do it without you. God is all-powerful, but he respects our human freedom. Not even the most important event in God’s plan since Creation, the incarnation of his Son within the Virgin, was to occur without her consent. But once Mary said, “Let it be done to me according to your will,” God began working great new things within her. Despite his omnipotence, God cannot force anyone to freely give him their “Yes.”

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” You may have seen paintings of this, with Jesus knocking at a cottage door. Oftentimes, the door is depicted as having no outside door-handle. This is because the cottage represents your soul, and the door to your soul can only be opened from the inside. Daily prayer opens the door to Christ.

One of the best ways to prayerfully invite Jesus into your day is through the “Morning Offering.” There are various forms of this prayer, but they usually begin like this: “O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart…” The exact words you use are not so important as the intention, the decision, the act of the will to offer yourself to Christ. If you don’t think that you’ll remember to do this first thing in the morning, then you can put your guardian angel on the job. Then, as soon as you open your eyes and see your bedroom ceiling, the thought of offering this prayer will occur to your mind. Daily prayer is key for growing in a life of holiness. You can do it anywhere, but visiting Our Lord at church, before his Eucharistic Presence in the tabernacle, is particularly powerful and precious to him.

Remember last week, when Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart“? Yokes are braces that go on an animals’ shoulders for pulling plows or wagons, and there are single-animal yokes, but I think Jesus has a double-yoke in mind. When there is an older, more experienced animal, it can be paired beside a younger, inexperienced one in order to train it and to bear the load together. And, when you look at a double-yoke from above, it forms a cross. What Jesus calls you to, you can’t do alone. He does not expect you to do it alone, but he’s waiting for your “Yes.” Give him your “Yes,” become good soil, and then watch him grow great things in you.

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