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The Sower. The Seed. The Field. Understanding the Christian Mission

By Deacon Keith Fournier
July 20th, 2014
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

"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." (Matt. 13: 1-9)

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - The Gospel today is St. Matthew's account of the parable of the sower and seed. It was addressed by Jesus to a huge crowd which had gathered to hear Him:  "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." (Matt. 13: 1-9)

Though I grew up in the inner City of Boston, I have called beautiful Southeastern Virginia home for much of my life. We have a lot of beautiful fields. Farming is an integral part of the local economy. The meaning of this agrarian parable has become increasingly clear every year I watch those fields become green. Of course, preceding all of this, there is the condition of that field before the seed is even sown. That involves work and cooperation.

I have come to understand the hard work that is involved in cultivating the soil, sowing the seed and praying for cooperative weather only vicariously; through the farmers I have come to know in my years of ministry. My admiration for their hard work has grown immensely. So too has my gratitude for the goodness of God. He has sown the seed of His Word and His Kingdom within each one of us. The results also involve our hard work and cooperation with His grace. 

Later in the same chapter, Jesus explains this parable to his disciples: "Hear then the parable of the sower. 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."(Matt. 13: 1-23)

St. Luke emphasizes the spread of the Kingdom of God:: "Jesus said, "What is the Kingdom of God like? To what can I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that a man took and planted in the garden. When it was fully grown, it became a large bush and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches." "Again he said, "To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened." (Luke 13: 18 - 21)

The images of seed sown and leaven kneaded into dough, both reflect the reality of our lives, God's call - and our cooperation with His grace. St. Jose Maria Escriva once wrote: "May Our Lord be able to use us so that, placed as we are at all the cross-roads of the world - and at the same time placed in God - we become salt, leaven and light. Yes, you are to be in God, to enlighten, to give flavor, to produce growth and new life. But don't forget that we are not the source of this light: we only reflect it." (St. Jose Maria Escriva, Friends of God, 250)

We are both the soil and the seed. The Living Word has been sown within us, so we must cultivate the ground of our hearts in order to be transformed in the Lord and more fully reflect His Image and Likeness. We are called to grow in holiness and progressively reflect the risen life of Jesus Christ to the world.

There is also a missionary meaning, of special importance as we consider this Year of Faith. We are also the seed, placed in His Holy, blood stained Hands, being spread into the world which He still loves. The world which was created through the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word of the Father, is now being re-created in and through the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. We are living seeds of the Kingdom being spread in the garden of the world.

Other images used by the Lord to communicate this insight are also found in Matthews Gospel, involving salt and light: "Jesus said to his disciples: "You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

"You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden." "Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lamp stand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father." (Matt. 5: 13 - 16)

The reference to light should call to our mind these words, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12) We are bearers of the light of Christ sent into a world which is walking in the twilight. 

We have been baptized into the Body of the Risen Jesus Christ. He now lives His life in us - and we live our lives in Him. We now live in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world. The Father still loves the world he created. He gives His Son to save it. (John 3: 16)  That gift continues through you and me as we live out our vocation by living in the Heart of the Church for the sake of the world.

As Christians we are called to love the world as God loves the world. Jesus continues His redemptive mission in and through us! He has placed us in the world with a purpose. One of the titles that the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council ascribed to the Church (found in early patristic literature) is the "the world reconciled." That same Council reaffirmed the ancient Patristic Image of the Church as a seed of the kingdom.

There is some confusion concerning our relationship to the world which comes from the remnants of one of the early heresies in Christian history, Manichaeism. The followers of that error believed that matter was evil. That is NOT the Christian belief. We profess in our Creed a belief in a bodily resurrection and the coming of a new heaven and new earth! 

Yet this error of viewing matter as evil and the world, by extension, as a place to be avoided, still infects and can lead to a ghetto mentality whereby Christians withdraw from the world. Some of the confusion can also come from failing to understand the differing ways the phrase the world is used in the New Testament.

There is "the world" that God created and looked upon and said "it is good". (See e.g. Genesis, chapter 1). That world is still good. It is filled with beauty and reflects the Divine artist and architect who made it. That world He entrusted to the crown of his creation - man and woman. 

Then there is a system, the culture of death and use, which has squeezed God out of His rightful place and substituted idols in His place. That system is also called "the world" in the bible. (See, e.g. James 4:4). We are not to "love" that world, in the sense of giving ourselves over to its dominion. We are to reject that system in order to free those enchained by its lies.

However, the Father wants to bring the entire human race back into a relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Chris, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Those who live in Jesus Christ, by living in the Church which is His Body, are now sent on mission into the fields of this world in order to bring all men and women into the new world of the Church.

The power to effect redemptive change in the world comes from the life of God within us. It is amazing how little leaven it takes to raise a loaf of bread. Those  little particles of yeast have the power to ferment, to change the lump of wet dough into a loaf of aromatic, tasty, nourishing bread.

However, the power contained within that yeast is not activated unless it is mixed and kneaded into the dough. Once you work the leaven in, it is still hidden to the eye but transforms that loaf! So it is with Christians within human culture! The power within us is the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead (See Romans 8:11)! All we are asked to do is to mix it up.

We have to get in the loaf. We must be in the world - where Jesus is - in order to be used to accomplish His ongoing work of redemption. Leaven that is not used in time spoils and loses its capacity to ferment that dough; it must be active or it becomes useless. Once hidden in the loaf, active leaven always raises the dough. So it is with our cooperation with grace.

Faith is a verb, it must be exercised. By living in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world we can bring the world back to God. This missionary mindset has inspired great missionary ages in the past and brought extraordinary changes to entire cultures. It can once again! However, it begins with one person, one grain, one seed, at a time.

The seed of the kingdom, the living Word, has been planted within us. And now, we are to become the seed, the salt and the leaven for the Divine Sower who continues His redemptive mission in a world waiting to be reborn in Him. He spreads us in the field of the world to bear a harvest for the Kingdom to come.

We are invited by the Lord to live at the crossroads of the world as leaven of the new world of which the Church is a seed and sign. This missionary way of life is what the New Evangelization is about. This reality should also guide our participation in the Year of Faith.

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