One of the characteristics of a well-written parable is that it allows the reader to place him or herself in a position to view the action from several perspectives. Such an approach permits us to enter deeper into the mystery that is God. When we do so, the questions for which we find answers rarely take the form of either/or. No, God’s answers are almost always both/and! I am sure that is why Jesus, the master teacher, makes use of parables throughout the Gospels. Take, for example, the readings from this past Sunday.
Quite often, the Parable of the Sower is understood as depicting God as the Sower, the seed as His Word, and the ground as those who hear that Word. That perspective is certainly valuable, and ripe with opportunity to cultivate and harvest a deeper understanding of the mind of God. In fact, this is the perspective that Jesus uses in the second half of last Sunday’s Gospel when he explains the parable to his disciples.
However, it is not the only one. For this reason, I prefer the shorter version of that Gospel which does not include that lengthy explanation. In fact, many scripture scholars believe that the second part of the reading was added by the Gospel’s author. That makes a lot of sense to me. By not explaining what the parable teaches, the master teacher allowed the parable to teach us even more!
For example, let’s imagine for a moment that God continues to be represented by the Sower, but what does this parable teach us if we are the seed, and the world is the ground? It is a subtle change, but one that has far reaching implications. I have to admit that it makes me a bit uncomfortable. Why would God allow my gifts and talents to be cast on the equivalent of rocky ground or among thorns? If He loves me and cherishes me, why would he allow my life to be less fruitful than others?
I do not know the answer to that question, but this morning’s Canticle from the Book of Wisdom gives me some comfort. There is a bigger plan at work. One with which Wisdom “who knows your works and was present when you made the world; Who understands what is pleasing in your eyes and what is conformable with your commands” is familiar. The author petitions God to make that Wisdom present in his life. “From your glorious throne, dispatch her. That she may be with me and work with me, that I may know what is your pleasure.”
And so I have come to another perspective on the parable. This time, I am in the position of the Sower. The treasures, talents and time God has given me in this world are the seeds, and the many ministries in need of help are represented by the ground. I am called to lavish my time, talent and treasure upon those ministries. I ask for the Wisdom of God to be with me when I do so, as an active co-worker. I must always realize that my talents, my treasure, my time - my contribution – is not really mine. It comes from elsewhere. Likewise, the fruitfulness of my action will be the result of forces that are not my own.
Archbishop Romero once wrote, “We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise… We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.” John’s Gospel reminds us, “One sows and another reaps. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work."
There is a place in God’s plan for the path, the rocky ground, the thorns as well as the rich soil. Each serves an important and unique purpose. And, each is part of God’s creation. God calls us to spread our talent, treasure and time without evaluating how fruitful we may think each target may be.
We are all here having spread our seeds far and wide. Some landed within our families; hopefully others took root in the workplace; still others fell upon various church ministries; more than a little found their place here within the Pastoral Ministry Leadership Formation Program. Some of us have spread seed while discerning a vocation to the diaconate. Over the next few weeks, those seeds will continue to grow. As time progresses, some of us will be chosen to begin formation for ordination, some will not. Some will continue with the PMLF next year, some will decide that they can no longer devote the time, talent and treasure necessary to participate. I admit that over the past few weeks, this uncertainty has created more than a little anxiety in my mind.
But prayerful meditation upon last Sunday’s scripture readings made me realize that the seeds you and I have scattered all wound up exactly where God wanted them to land. Each one will sprout according to God’s will. The prophet Isaiah quoted God in last week’s First Reading, saying, “my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”
The result may not be exactly what you and I want or think it should be. But I am at peace with that possibility, and suggest humbly that you should be as well. It is easy to be frustrated and to view our previous efforts as wasted. But in those times, I am reminded to call upon the Wisdom of God to help me to understand that the seeds I scattered landed exactly where God wanted, and needed, them to land. Teilhard de Chardin once equated time with “grace and circumstances acting on your own good will.” We scatter the seeds, God makes them grow. De Chardin closes the same work by noting,
Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept
the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.