Saturday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time
Today, we hear our Lord preach what most people call the parable of the sower, or the sower and the seed. But as you heard, it really isn’t about the sower or the seed; it’s about the dirt. And not just the dirt – it’s about how people are like the dirt. Although it doesn’t sound very appealing, his explanation reveals it as a novel and practical way to help us see not only who we are, but who we are meant to be.
He begins with the soil on the path. Compacted and difficult to break through, this soil represents the hardened heart of those who refuse to hear the word. This might put us in mind of the scribes and Pharisees, but Jesus is speaking to us, too. Our hearts harden every time we refuse his call in any way, whether it is to forgive, to accept those who disagree with us, or to speak out in the face of evil.
Then there is the rocky soil – those who believe until faith gets difficult. Again, we may think of the crowds who welcomed Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, or the Apostles during his passion, but what about us? It’s one thing to have faith when times are easy and God feels close, but what happens when times are hard and God feels far away? How easy it is to turn inward and lose heart!
From there, Jesus speaks of the thorny soil, which represents those who follow for a while, but eventually allow worldly concerns to dominate. This is like the rich man who wanted to follow Jesus, but couldn’t find it in himself to give his money away. But is it also like us? Jesus is asking us to search our hearts, to see if there is something we’re holding onto at all costs, be it a “pet sin,” a worldly concern, or some pleasure that preoccupies us to the point of becoming an idol.
As we contemplate these categories and evaluate ourselves in light of them, we can see that, although none of them fits us perfectly over the course of our life, some combination probably fits us a little too well over time. In his infinite love and mercy, our Lord never leaves us without hope or encouragement. He uses only one sentence – actually, one part of a sentence – to go beyond the failures and show us success.
Where the soil on the path is the hardened heart who heard and refused, the rich soil is the heart that has heard the word and embraced it. This is the heart open to forgive, ready to welcome, and daring to speak when silence means sin. Where the rocky soil is the heart turned in on itself, the rich soil is the heart turned outward in goodness and generosity. Where the thorny soil is the heart that abandons Christ, the rich soil is the heart that bears fruit through perseverance (Luke 8:15).
His final word, perseverance, reminds us that those in the rich soil are like everyone else; they aren’t spared any of the ups and downs of life. What differs is their attitude. Like those on the path, on the rocks, or among thorns, they too know suffering; unlike them, they see it not just as a mystery but as a part of God’s plan that will ultimately bring good. They too know trials and challenges, but not as things simply to be endured; for them, they are opportunities to grow in virtue. Where would prudence be without the ambiguities of life, fortitude without its fears, patience without its irritations, or justice without its unfairness? Perseverance, a gift of the Holy Spirit, is the bridge that brings us from who we are to who we are meant to be.
Who could look at dirt and see and see the story of us? Only the One who could look at the dust of the earth, breathe His own life and image into it, and then write the story of us. Praised be Jesus Christ, true God and true man.