Without sacramental communion, have the Mass readings become more important to you during these last four months? Today’s gospel, a parable describing four kinds of soil, offers an examination of conscience – how have you received the word, how have you listened to God? Are you hard like a path, aware that something has landed, that God is prompting, but relieved when the birds, the events of life, take it away. Are you enthusiastic like shallow soil, initially hopeful that this lockdown was an opportunity, full of resolutions, but soon, sadly, you hit the rocks, and binge streaming and comfort eating took over. Are you anxious like the thorny soil, any joy and peace choked by the ever present and growing uncertainties and worries. And all are understandable – the path ; ‘you have to be tough to survive’, the shallow soil: ‘I’m only human’, the thorns ‘this is the real world’.
This homily could then go on to address possible ways to improve these soils, to make them more fruitful, ploughing, fertilising, weeding. But then, there is that strange section between the parable and its explanation, those hard sayings – the mysteries are revealed to you but not to them, those who have are given more, those who have not will lose even that, parables are used because people listen without understanding. Is it my job to explain, to smooth out these rough passages, what Jesus really means is this…?
If only the word of God were simply as Isaiah describes in the first reading – like welcome rain that brings growth, that always carries out its purpose successfully. But that was not Jesus’ experience. He had performed miracles, commissioned apostles, shared wisdom, and yet he encountered opposition from pharisees, misunderstanding from a wicked and perverse generation. He is accused of being a breaker of the Sabbath, in league with Beelzebul. He decides to distance himself from the unstable crowd and to teach from a boat. His parables highlight this mixed reception, the sower, the wheat and tares growing up together, the net catching both good and bad fish, his message as something hidden, a treasure, a pearl, that needs discovering, as something small, yeast, mustard seed, with an unexpected impact.
He is prepared for his word to reveal what is in others’ hearts, a moment of crisis, of judgement. And he also comes to see that he is not simply the bringer of a message. The teacher will have to live out the parable in his own passion – he will have to fall on the path and hear the mockery of the cynical crowd, he will have to encounter the shallow soil when his disciples desert him, he will be choked by thorns, crowned with thorns.
And this particular moment will have a universal significance, which Paul tries to describe in the extraordinary passage in today’s second reading. He considers the sufferings of creation in the context of Christ’s sufferings. Creation is unable to attain its purpose - like the seed eaten by birds, enmeshed in thorns, withered by heat. Creation is early waiting for God to reveal his sons – literally stretching forward its head in eagerness.
What might this mean? Where the head has gone, the body will follow. We possess the first fruits of the Spirit, because Christ has already revealed the sonship of God. Christ has embraced all the elements of creation – the water of the Jordan, the sun’s fire in the wilderness, the stormy winds on the lake, the earth at Gethesmane, the iron and wood at Calvary. And in his passion he was groaning in one great act of giving birth. ‘It is accomplished’.
Those fat hearts, those heavy ears, those closed eyes lamented by Isaiah, represented by that fat, heavy stone closing the tomb, cannot prevent this new birth, this new creation being revealed by the resurrection. The word was made flesh, the word redeemed flesh, our flesh, and in some, strange way, the flesh of all creation. Bread can now become the body of Christ, water the forgiveness of Christ, oil the healing of Christ. the word of God is alive and active, but we also need the physical touch of the sacraments. Christ is not just a teacher, he is the saviour.
Fr Chad Boulton OSB 12th July 2020