Monday, July 11, 2011

The Sower and the Seed

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A cycle

Today’s first reading is clearly an introduction to the famous parable recounted in today’s gospel account of the sower and the seed. Isaiah compares the word of God to the rain and snow that make everything blossom and grow. Without this moisture which comes down from above there would be no life on earth. Obviously Isaiah is talking about much more than rain and snow. For him the word of God is more physical and more important than the rain and snow.

My word shall not return to me void,
But shall do my will,
Achieving the end for which I sent it.

In today’s parable Jesus shares Isaiah’s view. He even quotes from Isaiah. The parable of the sower and the seed is one of the most famous but it is also the only one which Jesus bothers to explain to his puzzled disciples. In Matthew’s account the seed, that is, the word of God, falls in different places with different results. Some falls on the hardened, trodden down path and is quickly eaten by the birds. Some falls on rocky ground where there is little soil to nourish it. Some falls among thorns or weeds which choke it. Finally, the rest falls on good soil and produces a bountiful harvest.

What is the meaning of this parable? After telling His disciples why He uses parables, Jesus then explains to them the meaning of this one. Let’s try to put His explanation in our own words. In the first place, He equates the seed sown in the path with those who hear the word of God without understanding it. Who could that be?

How many people today have only the most rudimentary knowledge of their own faith? For how many of us does our religious education stop with the 8th grade? Is there any other field of endeavor in which we would be content to stay at the 8th grade level? What would we think of a job application where the candidate’s schooling stopped at the 8th grade? Why do we spend thousands of dollars trying to get a college degree? What professional athlete would be content with 8th grade skills? Even when they make the pros they have to keep acquiring new skills in order to remain competitive. Why should life be any different?

The second case of the rocky ground is more difficult. We all know of people whose faith has been shaken and even lost by some setback, some sorrow, and even some tragedy. Our Lord speaks of tribulation. But today, how many people have lost their faith because of a bad marriage or a divorce? How many have lost it because of some word spoken by an insensitive priest or religious? How many have lost their faith because of the scandalous behavior of a few priests? Finally, it is so sad to see the death or illness of a loved one cause someone to question their beliefs.
We don’t have to work too hard to understand the third category.

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.

Worldly anxiety is something we can all relate to. It requires no dramatic event or crisis. It creeps up on us slowly and before we know it we are in its grasp. Young people know how important it is to have friends, but often the desire to be popular and well liked can take over and ruin their lives. We all know that it is important for us to work hard in order to provide for the basic needs of our families, but how often do we see men and women so consumed by their work that their families are seriously hurt in the process of getting ahead? Even the elderly can fall into a daily routine that chokes them like the thorns in today’s gospel.

Life is full of snares and traps. Maybe that is what St. Paul had in mind in today’s reading from the Letter to the Romans.

for creation was made subject to futility,
not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it.

There is no denying that there is pain and suffering in the world. Paul continually urges his followers to remain steadfast in their beliefs and not to turn their backs on God, or ignore the teaching of his Son, Jesus. As in any endeavor there is a reward for perseverance.

I consider that the sufferings of the present time are as nothing
Compared with the glory to be revealed.

Reading 1. Isaiah 55: 10-11
Reading II. Romans 8:18-23
Gospel. Matthew 13: 1-23 (A sower went out to sow).


Sunday, July 3, 2011

My Yoke is Easy

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A cycle

Reading 1. Zechariah 9: 9-10
Reading II. Romans 8:9, 1-13
Gospel. Matthew 11: 25-30 (my yoke is easy)

After celebrating the three great feasts, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, and Corpus Christi, that bring the Easter season to its conclusion, we now enter again into what the Church calls Ordinary time. Ordinary time refers to that time of the Church year that is not associated with Christmas or Easter. During Ordinary time the priest will usually wear vestments of green, the color of hope. In a way these Sundays after Easter will give us an idea of what the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus means for us.

In today’s first reading from the Book of Zechariah the prophet speaks of a day when the burdens laid on people by their oppressors will be lifted.

He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim,
And the horse from Jerusalem;
The warrior’s bow shall be banished,
and he shall proclaim peace to the nations.

Chariots, horses, the warriors bow are instruments of oppression and military conquest. The overlords of the people often put heaven burdens on their subjects. Even today on the Fourth of July we celebrate our own Declaration of Independence whereby our founding fathers through off the yoke of British oppression.

However, even though we live in the freest country in the World, there is a kind of oppression or burden that hits very close to home. So many of us have had a yoke placed upon our shoulders by our friends and family. Indeed, sometimes we are the ones who have placed the burden on our own shoulders.

I will never forget an incident that occurred years ago when I was a financial advisor. I visited an elderly couple in their home one evening to look over their finances. The man sat stooped over the kitchen table after his long commute home. The train ride to New York City took over an hour each way, but then he had to take a subway, and then walk a few blocks to his office. He hated the long commute and was sick of his job, which he had been doing for years.

After looking over the financial situation, I told them that there was no reason for him to continue working. They lived very frugally, and the income from their savings and investments was more than enough for them to retire comfortably. I was amazed when the man slowly raised his head and shoulders as if a great burden had been lifted. This miracle was not my doing but theirs. They had worked hard but just didn’t realize how well they had done.

It’s the same thing with most of us. I’m not just talking about finances now. Why do teenagers seem to be so gloomy and depressed? Why is there such addiction among young people? Why is there such a high rate of teen suicide? Why, in the years when they should feel the most free, do young people have to do say what their friends want to hear; have to follow peer pressure and do what their friends want them to do? Why do they feel that they must smoke this, or drink that in order to be socially acceptable?

As we get older the burdens seem to get even greater. We all know the stress of family relationships, job insecurity, raising children, or caring for aged parents. Half the country seems to be on some sort of medication, legal or illegal, to relieve the burdens. Who is there to lift the yoke from our backs.

Here is a good way to tell a true from a false friend. A true friend helps us to bear life’s burdens; a false one just piles more weight on our backs. In fact, the good friend is the one who actually lightens the load by sharing it with us. In today’s gospel Jesus is trying to make us realize that our burdens have been lifted.

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
And I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
For I am meek and humble of heart;…
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.

Christ suffered so that we would not have to. He told us to be humble and not proud; to care for our neighbor instead of always thinking of ourselves. He was always healing people. Did he ever hurt anyone? Jesus continually criticized the Pharisees for their rules and regulations that put innumerable burdens on people.

St. Paul was born and raised a Pharisee. In fact, he said he was a kind of super-Pharisee who followed all rules to their minutest detail. After his conversion, however, he realized that that to living in the Spirit and not in the flesh was the road to happiness.

For if you live according to the flesh, you will die,
But if by the Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body,
You will live.

Right before today’s Eucharistic prayer, the priest will ask the congregation to “lift up your hearts.”