Jul 7, 2011

15th Sunday: The right use of power

15th Sunday readings: http://www.usccb.org/nab/071011.shtml

Isaiah 55: 10-11
Rm 8: 18-23
Mt 13: 1-23
Have you ever wondered how things grow? That may sound a sort of non-question in that we take constant growth for granted. We plant a seed in the ground or a small tree or bush and before we know it we have a tomato plant, a large shade tree or colorful tulips. A botanist could certainly describe the genetic code of plants but isn’t there also a sense of wonder? To look at something merely scientifically is important and interesting but it somewhat leaves us flat. To see something with a sense of wonder and awe makes a world of difference in how we live our lives. We wonder at the power, silent and mysterious, that turns a small seed into a large flowering plant. We should even more wonder at the complexity of human life.

This Sunday’s readings encourage us to wonder and ask the question as to how things grow. Our first reading from Isaiah describes the obvious: “Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down . . . till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful . . . so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth . . .” (Is 55: 10-11). There is a divine power at work here. God’s word has power to affect change like rain falling on the ground produces life from grass, plant and animal, including us of course. The Gospel speaks of even more.

The sower and the seed is one of the most familiar and one of the most challenging of Jesus’ parables. It is clear that he speaks in terms of symbols and does not come straight to the point. The farmer’s method of sowing is wasteful. He does not seem to care much about the seed and conserving what needs to be saved but rather scatters the seed wildly on the ground hoping that some of it will find root and grow. This is not a model for good planting but rather a story that is told for the hearer to stretch and think. Who is the farmer? What is the seed? What is the reference to the soil? Such would have been on the mind of the crowd who heard this parable along the shore of Galilee.

The implication is, and the shorter version of Sunday’s Gospel makes it clear, that the parable ended after Jesus’ comments on types of soil. So, what was that about? We have the luxury that Matthew felt it was important enough that Jesus’ explanation to his Apostles, likewise perplexed, be included in his Gospel.

So, he explains to them the meaning of the parable – a rare occurrence in the Gospels. More often, you and I are left to ponder and that is the purpose of the parable. That we stretch and think; that we apply the great mystery of God to our lives, both personal and corporate. I purpose one way to view this parable is about the right use of power.

It is clear from both Isaiah and Jesus that God’s use of power is right. It produces growth and life and abundance for the one who “. . . bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirty fold . . .” God’s power is always in our best interest for the common good of all. That’s why the Sower spreads his seed indiscriminately so that no matter where it falls, it may produce life. It is given both generously and with love. How it is received is another matter of course and that is the soil on which it falls. But in the end, the desire of the sower (aka God) is to bring life and abundance for all.

This leaves us to maybe wonder about our use of power. Although we are creatures and never will have the power of our creator we do have a responsibility to use the power we have in a God-like fashion. The right use of power produces life. Forgiveness, charity, respect, compassion, kindness, patience all are the right use of power.

Greed, domination, disrespect, self righteousness, hatred, vengeance, fear, control over others are the wrong use of power and they destroy life. Every “seed” we sow makes a difference in the lives of others and brings change for good or for ill.

Power is used in marriage, in families, in places of employment, in friendships, in the Church and in government. How that power is used makes a difference. In these slower summer months, I think this parable about God’s power and what it produces and our power and how we use it may offer us the luxury of some personal reflection. How have I used power? What difference did it make? Was life produced or life destroyed?

The word of Christ comes to us to guide us in the right use of power. We need to tend our soil and prepare it to receive this gift. The Eucharist was given to us when Jesus laid down the power of his own life and freely gave himself to us. He is still gifting himself each time we hear, “Body of Christ – Blood of Christ.”