15th Sunday, Ordinary Time
Cycle “A” – 2017
Ask any musician or actor who does “LIVE PERFORMANCES,” what they love the most; and they will invariably tell you that they most enjoy a RECEPTIVE AUDIENCE! — Ask any comedian, and they will share that their worst fear is that no one will laugh at their routine! (Because one can have the greatest material in the world; but, if no one laughed, it doesn’t matter, how great the material was, does it?) — In fact, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that WE ALL WANT A RECEPTIVE AUDIENCE! — If you’re giving a homily on Sunday morning, or making a presentation at work, or at school; you want to be really listened to, don’t you? — If you’re trying to impart “pearls of wisdom” to your teen-aged son or daughter; or if you’re asking your mom or dad for a raise in your allowance; you want the person to whom you are speaking to be really “OPEN TO” or “RECEPTIVE” to, what you are saying, don’t you?! — And this kind of RECEPTIVITY is what today’s rather long PARABLE is all about! The sower is hoping that the seed he sows will fall on soil that is receptive!
For the sake of illustration, imagine, for a moment, that you really hate grand opera! So, the very last place that you’re going to want to be – is the Civic Theater, in downtown San Diego, during opera season, right?! WHY? That’s A NO BRAINER; – because you’re NOT OPEN to listening to opera! — And that means that you’d be a lousy audience for Wager or Verdi or Puccini, because you’re NOT RECEPTIVE to that kind of music! — Same thing if you don’t like baseball — you probably won’t be hanging out at “Pet Co Park!” — And if you don’t like football; – not to worry because the “Chargers” have already made the decision for you!!!
Just so, in today’s parable, about GOD’S WORD; Jesus makes it clear that the “soil” of some peoples’ hearts is JUST NOT RECEPTIVE; and so the SEED OF GOD’S WORD withers and dies!
How then, do we ensure that our HEARTS will be RECEPTIVE to the message of Jesus? — This (evening’s/morning’s) parable seems to say that it’s all a matter of RIDDING ourselves of whatever OBSTACLES there are in our lives, that BLOCK our RECEPTIVITY to the message! — In other words, most people who “DON’T GET” the message of JESUS, “DON’T GET IT,” because they don’t WANT to get it! — SO, it stands to reason that the FIRST STEP, to removing the obstacles to Jesus’ message, is to HONESTLY NAME what those OBSTACLES ARE; and then to ask ourselves HOW FAR WE ARE WILLING TO GO (with the help of God), to do something about them! — Mind you, this is no easy task; but, (with God’s help) it’s NOT IMPOSSIBLE!
For example, let me tell you some of the things I’ve VERY RARELY HEARD anyone SAY, in the safety and anonymity of the CONFESSIONAL! — I’ve RARELY, in my 45 years of ordained ministry, HEARD anyone say:
– “Father, I’m manipulative and controlling, and I always get my way – or else!” OR:
– “Father, I’m pessimistic and a whiner, and I sour life for everybody around me.” OR:
– “Father, I have a huge ego, and I’m obsessed with winning at all costs: – in business, on the freeway, in conversations with my family and friends….” OR:
– “Father, I’m a blamer. It’s always someone else’s fault.” —- (Those four examples are what I mean by NAMING OBSTACLES!)
I’ve heard a lot confessed about missed morning prayers; and stolen “stuff” large and small; and a sexual thought or two; but, I’ve heard very little confessed about who the penitent IS at his or her CORE! — In my 45 years “in the box,” I’ve heard very little about the REAL OBSTACLES in our lives that keep the message of Jesus from taking root and producing a truly awesome harvest!
AS A HELPFUL HINT – I truly believe that if we’re willing to “DIG DEEP” enough to DISCOVER what prevents us from (really “listening to,” and “being open to” OTHER PEOPLE); then – we’ll find that we’ve come a long way towards discovering what prevents us from REALLY LISTENING TO, and BEING OPEN to GOD and his WORD!
For example, in our conversations with others, are we ALWAYS TALKING and NEVER LISTENING? (That can be a pretty major obstacle to hearing what GOD might have to say to us!) — OR, do we find ourselves JUDGING others the whole time that we’re conversing with them? (We can’t hear too much if we’re guilty of that, either!) — ARE WE SO OPINIONATED and CONVINCED THAT WE’RE RIGHT a 100% of the time, that we just AGGRIVATE other people? (In other words, have we closed ourselves off to new “data”?) — Do we INTERRUPT others before they’ve had a chance to finish what they’re saying? (Maybe we could be doing the same thing with God?!) — Do we LISTEN with an OPEN HEART, or do we always LISTEN DEFENSIVELY to what others have to say? — And if someone occasionally offers some “constructive criticism,” do we immediately jump to our own DEFENSE; (at times, even in ANGER)?
BEING OPEN TO GOD’S WORD means a WILLINGNESS to LISTEN TO THE LORD, through the Scriptures; through preaching; through the Sunday Liturgy; through spiritual reading; and through the teachings of the Church. (And, let me add, just because some of the Church’s messengers have been guilty of grave sin doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with the basic message! After all, CHRIST’S MESSAGE has served us in good stead for over two thousand years!)
Being OPEN to GOD also means a willingness to listen to God as God reveals himself in CREATION; through the EVENTS of our lives; and through OTHER PEOPLE!
But, when all is said and done, perhaps the BIGGEST OBSTACLE to our receiving God’s Word in our hearts, and letting it TAKE ROOT, is the OBSTACLE that JESUS IDENTIFIES when he says, at times, “the cares of the world and the lure of riches CHOKE the WORD and it bears no fruit.” — In other words, sometimes we run the risk of becoming so preoccupied with what we can SEE and TOUCH; that we are content to leave the
non-tangible realities to the saints and angels!
WHO among us, for example, has NEVER been guilty of checking his or her watch to see how long the Mass is taking? — WHY” – because other interests and concerns are also at play in our lives!: a restaurant reservation to keep; a “big game” to be played or watched; a house to straighten before company comes; an investment that needs to be checked on. —- These PREOCCUPATIONS (and there are many) don’t make us bad people; (and I’ll certainly confess to being guilty of watch-watching myself) – they just INDICATE a momentary LACK OF FOCUS; a momentary lack of RECEPTIVITY to whatever it is that GOD might have to say! — Which is to lose sight of the fact that this world, wonderful as it can sometimes be, – is NOT our permanent home! — THIS LIFE that we now enjoy – is simply a preparation for eternal life with God! — And we need to remember that FACT!
And Jesus said: “A sower went out to sow, and as he sowed, some of the seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some seed fell on rocky ground, where there is little soil… and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns… which choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced FRUIT, a hundred or sixty or thirty-fold. Whoever has ears OUGHT TO HEAR.”
When you and I are filled “to the brim” with ourselves, OR with our many cares OR with our many possessions; then there is precious little room left to welcome God and God’s word! —– THAT’S WHY we ALL need to HEAR this PARABLE about the SOWER (GOD) and the SEED (GOD’S WORD), every once in a while, so that we can HONESTLY ASK OURSELVES – “WHAT KIND OF SOIL does God have to work with in MY LIFE? – shallow, rocky, thorny or rich?” — And then, we need to PRAY, (on a regular basis), for the strength and grace to CREATIVELY ADDRESS whatever OBSTACLES to RECEPTIVITY are present: (our preoccupations, obsessions and cravings) – so that our hearts might become that RICH SOIL in which the WORD OF GOD can GROW and produce a BOUNTIFUL HARVEST!