A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah
Much of Israel when the prophet Isaiah was active—the sixth century before the birth of Jesus—was a desert or close to it. The people were dependent on the spring rains to grow food. This part of the prophecy of Isaiah read in today’s Mass was written as the people came back from the Babylonian Exile. At last they were home, but home was a desert. Isaiah assured them that “the rain and snow come down and do not return till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed for the one who sows and bread for the one who eats.” Then, he connected it with something even more important. “So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I send it.” The Israelites understood this, that God’s word is powerful and accomplishes what God intends.
As we witness the refugee crisis, conflicts in various parts of the world, seemingly intractable poverty in our own country and abroad, and the effects of climate change, we may wonder where the word of God is taking root. It’s taking root in the free will and goodness and bravery of so many people who are not giving up, who are doing the right things in all these circumstances and saving lives.
(Psalm 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14)
“The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.” Our hope is that the “good ground” of the world’s best scientists will yield the fruit that will heal the world. Let us pray for them.
A reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans
The second reading in today’s Mass includes a statement by St. Paul that we need to hear and understand: “Brothers and sisters: I consider that the sufferings of the present time are as nothing compared to the glory to be revealed for us.” The sufferings that Paul was talking about included the oppression imposed by the Roman Empire and the grinding poverty that affected most people in that time and place. But there is a great hope:
“We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that , but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, who also groans within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” I never thought of it what way, but maybe that groaning that we feel inside of us from time to time is the Spirit inside of us letting us know that we are not alone.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew
Many of Jesus’ contemporaries were farmers, so he often used examples from agrarian life. In the gospel passage read in today’s Mass, he tells them, “A sower went out to sow.” This was an important job. If you did not do it correctly, nothing would grow. “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 withered for lack of roots. Some fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
“The disciples approached him and said, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’” And Jesus answered, ‘Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted…. But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.’”
Then, Jesus explained the parable to the disciples: “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 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 the 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.”
Now, let’s move away from agriculture to our lives today. Have you ever had the Word stolen from your heart? Was it because of personal tragedy or more widespread tragedy? Did you grow up with joy in your heart only to have it lose its power as you grew older? Have the “thorns of anxiety” choked the Word in your heart? Do you worry about things that you cannot control and shouldn’t try to, but you do, over and over? Are you one who hears the Word and understands it, and has it borne great fruit in your life? Or have you had several of those experiences at different times in your life? Join the club! Or should I say, come to the community of us believers who do not always find it easy to believe but persevere in faith.
Painting, The Sower by Jean-François Millet, 1850. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Public domain.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.