So this week, the third largest iceberg broke off in Antarctica, our president’s son demonstrates the problems of nepotism in a spectacularly bad way, and both health insurers and patients worry about how to get good health care in today’s America. Among other things. There’s usually some crisis looming in every news cycle – these days, there’s no shortage of trouble.
Paul’s words in this week’s Letter to the Romans might seem tailored made for us and our times:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing
compared with the glory to be revealed for us.
For creation awaits with eager expectation
the revelation of the children of God…
Yup – I would much rather have the fullness of God’s revelation than to be in the midst of “suffering” and trouble now.
The amazing thing is that when we put Paul’s words alongside Jesus’ – we see that we already have the potential to see some of that glory now. Jesus’ parable this week is The Sower – a parable that talks about seeds being sown on different kinds of soil, and what happens to them. In his discussion of this parable, Jesus suggests that the seeds are the life of God, and that we are the soil in which those seeds are sown.
We already have those seeds – that glory of God – but we do not likely know what kind of soil we are cultivating. Of course, Jesus hopes we are cultivating that rich soil that produces fruit 30 or 60 or 100 times over its yield.
Yet one of the puzzles of this parable is that we cannot know with any kind of immediacy or certainty that our God-given seeds have found that rich soil. In fact, Jesus cautions against being too quick to come to judgement or certainty – for that kind of certainty is actually a rocky and poor soil:
The seed sown 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.
Instead, what we find is that the cultivation of rich soil has to happen at the same time that we are also anticipating and seeking God’s seed that is in us. Rich soil is only cultivated with patient waiting, love, hope, and expectation. But it is not something we can grasp with certainty – in fact, any degree of certainty is almost certainly indicative of the wrong kind of soil.
What might this suggest for the moral life? To me it suggests that part of our practice of moral life is to cultivate waiting – that is to say, to cultivate contemplation, silence, and a waiting on God who will act in God’s own time.
This is the antithesis of much of our moral imagination – especially when we are confronted by headlines like the ones I linked, above. Global climate change, presidential dis-information, economic dystopia – surely these are all linked to moral crises that have some urgency.
And indeed they do. Yet responding to the urgency of the news cycle in kind – with urgency – might actually only hasten the cultivation of poor soil, and not enable us to respond to people in these crisis situations with the kind of love, hope, and fruitfulness to which Jesus calls us.
So this week, let us cultivate waiting and contemplation, yes even in the face of apparently urgent news. If a thing is truly urgent, we who have hope in God might also have faith that God will enable us to act urgently when there is need. And otherwise, we are called to cultivate the rich soil that in fact requires time and patience, things that are in short supply these days.