"A sower went out to sow . . . "
Today (Wednesday) the Gospel passage from Mark 4: 1-20 - http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012716.cfm - is a familiar one we've heard a number of times about the ancient farmer who went out to sow seed in the ground.
Farming methods in ancient Israel were anything but orderly and straight. Today we plant gardens on fertile soil in rows so that when grown, they can be harvested easily. We know much about nutrients and pesticides and causes of plant disease and the like.
Yet, in Jesus time the minimal top soil being what it was in ancient Israel, the method of planting was a bit more scattered. Jesus would often comment on the customs of the time with which people were already familiar. In this parable, we hear of planting practices with which his audience probably engaged in themselves.
Walking along the pathway, hoping for the best, the farmer would have a bag of seeds slung over his neck and shoulder. As he reached down into the bag he would grab seeds and literally fling them out, side to side, hoping that at least some of them would land upon life producing earth. Those that eventually did produced an abundance of growth (God's grace) likely more than would be normal. "Those on rich soil" yielded "thirty, sixty and a hundred fold!" The rest were either blown away, eaten by birds, or grew only for a time before being scorched by the hot sun with little water.
Yet, clearly Jesus is not offering advice on wiser growing practices. He rather is using this farming analogy to symbolize the growth of grace in our lives. How receptive are we to receive God's word?
Do we eagerly desire to grow in our spiritual lives or have we become so distracted and lured by the things of this world that our souls have become like rocky, shallow soil?
Don't you see this in your own life; your own family, friends, and maybe fellow parishioners? Some are deeply committed to their faith, pray regularly and seen to be growing in virtue. Others, are good people, but seem to give minimal attention to their spiritual life. They rarely speak of their faith and when they do we may wonder sometimes why they attend Church and more importantly, why they don't. It can happen in the same household and in the marriage itself. It is a mystery.
Lest we cast judgement, however, we need to tend to our own garden. God's grace is available to all who seek it - but do we seek it? Prayer, works of charity, reflection on the Scriptures, regular use of the sacraments of penance and the holy Eucharist all contribute to the soil of our hearts, the growth of our faith, and those seeds of faith the Holy Spirit planted in us at the time or our baptism and confirmation.
We all have much work to do including myself. What is your soil like today? How fertile is it? What weeds have been allowed to grow and worse yet, take over the garden robbing it of all nutrients?