Saturday, July 12, 2008

The answer is in your hands

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 13, 2008:

Two men were arguing about the wisdom of old Ben who was considered to be the wisest man in the village. “Ben is very wise,” said the first man. The second disagreed. “Ben is not so wise! We're just as smart as he is. I'll prove it to you.” The next day the man went into the woods near his home and captured a small bird. He brought the bird and said to the other man, “Let's go find Ben. I will show you that he’s not so smart.” The two men went and found old Ben, one man holding the small bird between his cupped hands. “Ben, we have a question for you,” he said. “I hold a small bird in my hands. Tell me, is this bird dead or alive?” The man thought his plan was fool proof, if Ben said the bird was dead, he would simply open his hands and show that the bird was alive. If Ben said the bird was alive, he would crush it between his hands and reveal that the bird was dead. This would prove that Ben wasn't so wise after all. Old Ben considered the question for a while and then said simply, “My son...the answer is in your hands.”

My friends, this is the message of our Gospel today. Will our lives be happy, fulfilled, fruitful and wise? The answer is in our hands. “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.”

In Jesus’ times fields were harvested in June and then left barren during the hot, dry summer. By the fall the ground was quite hard. However, the farmers knew that the rain would be coming soon, so in the fall the farmers would plant the crop for the next year’s harvest. The farmers then didn’t plant like modern farmers. Modern farmers plant in three steps: they plough, then sow the seed and then cover the seed with soil. Ancient farmers planted in two steps: the sower would go through the fields scattering the seed all the while he was followed by a ploughman who would plough the seed under the ground. That’s why the seed that fell on the footpaths was useless. The ploughman wasn’t about to plough the footpaths. The seed that fell on rocks couldn’t develop strong enough roots to survive. As far as the thorns were concerned, the Near East has world class thistles. Thistle plants grow over six feet tall. The only seed that had a chance of surviving would be that which fell on good soil. Jesus is inviting each of us today to be that good soil.

And so this causes us to ask, when it comes to Sacred Scripture, what type of soil am I? When I hear God’s word, am I like the pathway where the seed cannot even sprout, or like the rocky ground where the seed sprouts but has no roots, or like thorny ground where the word of God is choked to death by worldly cares, or like the good soil that bears much fruit?

One day Eric was sharing with a group of church people about the turnaround in his life since he started to love the Scriptures. “Two years ago,” he said, “I had no appetite for the Word of God. On Sundays, I would shop around going from church to church to find the priest that gave the shortest homily. My idea of a good Mass was one that took 40 minutes or less! The shorter, the better.” But, once Eric became open to hearing God’s Word; once he became good soil, all of that changed. He became like the writer of Psalm 119 who said, “Had your word, Lord, not been my delight, I would have perished…I will never forget your words; through them you give me life…How I love your word, Lord! I study it all day long. Your word makes me wiser than my foes, for it is always with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, because I ponder your word. I have more insight than all my elders, because I observe your word. I keep my steps from every evil path, that I may obey your word.”

Jesus is calling us all to become people who do not merely respect God’s word, or appreciate it; but who love the Word of God. A priest delivered a homily in 10 minutes one Sunday, which was about half the usual length. He explained to the parish, “I regret to inform you that my dog, who is very fond of eating paper, ate the portion of my homily which I was unable to deliver this morning.” After Mass, a visitor from another church shook hands with the priest and said, “Father, if that dog of yours has any pups, I want to get one to give to my priest.” My friends, if our favorite part of God’s word is when it is over, then we are missing the point.

Loving God’s word, being good soil, all begins with our openness. Can we surrender to God’s word? Can we believe in our hearts that there is nothing more important than God’s word? Can we be people who pledge to live as St. James calls us to, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only…The one who peers into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, such a one shall be blessed in what they do.”

What type of soil will we be? The seed of God’s word has been placed in each of us again today. Will it grow and be fruitful? Or will it wither and fade? My friends, the answer is in our hands.

May God give you peace.

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