Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Sunday Word

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Is 55:10-11
Rom 8:18-23
Mt 13:1-23
Years ago, we tried to deal with the deficiencies of certain eighth grade students by establishing a 3R Program. Yep, it was those good old days of 'reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic. The program essentially planted some seeds for students who had not mastered the essentials in grade school, but were at the very brink of survival in high school. Remarkably, those 3R students learned, grew and were "encouraged" into learning the fundamentals needed for the high school environment.

In Jesus' parable this Sunday, the sower casts out seeds which fall on four different environments. The environment determines the seeds' ability to grow and survive and to bear fruit. In our Marianist schools there is a philosphy that supports this idea. The philosophy says: "Atmosphere educates."

In Sunday's parable one batch of seeds cast out by Jesus' sower landed 'on the path.' The way was smooth, but the ground was hard, compacted by back-and-forth traffic. All the seed could do was lie on top of the soil, exposed and barren. Not surprisingly, these seeds were swiftly scooped up by hungry birds.

None of us can survive in a life that is barren of beauty, devoid of decoration, empty of ritual. We need special markings and moments to help us define the parameters of our lives and the passing of our days. To this end, all of us create rituals that help guide us forward and bring us back again. Some rituals are practiced so often they become ingrained habits. We have 'morning rituals'--which help us get up and prepare to face a new day. Whether these involve a 20-minute hot shower or a 40-minute cold run through the park, these rituals help settle our souls.

Another batch of seeds cast in the parable of the sower fall onto the rocky ground. Immediately, they shoot up high stalks, for there was virtually no soil for putting down roots. But all this frantic upward growth was in vain. The first day of scorching heat withered these high stalks. They had no root system to bring them nourishment and sustain them through the fierce midday sun.

Roots are just as crucial to human beings as they are to plants. Even in this restless U-Haul culture, we still develop a sense of who we are based on where we come from. We need to get in touch with our roots. To understand who has gone before us, to know who brought the faith forward. We do need to recognize that it is the dense complexity of those roots that provides us with the solid ground we stand on and the nourishment that enable us to grow.

And even another batch of seeds described in Jesus' parable had a short life because of the company they kept. There was nothing wrong with the soil these seeds fell upon--it was deep enough, soft enough and rich enough to sustain them. But this soil also supported a fine crop of thorns or thistles. These prickly neighbors were stronger and more vigorous than the seeds of our parable. In the race for survival, the thorns won--choking out their neighboring plants.

Relationships are tricky things. We can't live without them, but sometimes we sure wish we could. On days when arguments develop, the students hate you, your co-workers mistrust you, and even the guy who bags your groceries gives you a dirty look, the possibilities of a hermit's life begin to look pretty good.

The final batch of seeds mentioned in Jesus' parable were the lucky ones. Falling onto good soil, free of weeds and sheltered from weather, these seeds sprouted and grew vigorously. Because everything was working in their favor, these seeds were able to produce a harvest that far exceeded the norm. We all have different realities with which to contend. But for the Christian, life's 'realities'--death, disease, rejection, conflict, loneliness-- do not excuse us from choice or responsibility.

Get a good look at these 4R's (Roots, Rituals, Relationships, Realities) in this week's Scripture readings before you hear them this Sunday.