Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), July 10, 2011: Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 65:10-14; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 13:1-23

The readings for today bring back memories of my childhood on a small farm in northwest Ohio. Each year, before planting seeds for corn and soy beans, my brothers and I walked beside a tractor, picked up rocks (the glaciers left behind a lot in that neck of the woods), and tossed them onto the wagon behind the tractor. Certainly not a fun chore for four preteen boys, but we got paid a little bit for doing it, and I also really came to know the lay of the land. This annual activity was necessary to prepare the soil to yield a good crop.

In these readings, the “end” (Is 55:11) or “purpose” (or “goal”) that God has is, as the responsorial Psalm emphasizes, “a fruitful harvest.” For the Judean exiles in Babylon (c. 540 B.C.E., during the final years of their captivity there), the message of hope and consolation that the anonymous prophet known as Second Isaiah offered was reinforced with such language, framing the promise of restoration as a new exodus into the Promised Land. This word, or seed, says the LORD, “shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”

In the synoptic gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, the good news, or word, is that the kingdom of God is at hand. Indeed, most of the parables, including this one about the sower, have to do with “the word of the kingdom” (Mt 13:19). In other words, Jesus’ message is about the kingdom of God, which, as the prayer he taught his disciples puts it, is God’s will being done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10). Of course, in John’s gospel, the good news is the messenger, Jesus (John 1:1, 14), who is the Word made flesh. Over at America magazine, in her reflection on this passage, Barbara E. Reid, O.P., helpfully writes:

“Like all of Jesus’ parables, the one in today’s Gospel is open to a variety of interpretations. If we take the sower as the focus, the parable invites us to reflect on the boundless generosity of God, who offers the word, in the person of Jesus, to all in the hope of a fruitful response, no matter how poorly prepared to receive it some may seem to be. If we zero in on the seed, the parable assures us of the efficacy of the word. No matter what the yield, the seed itself is good, and it will bear fruit. If we take the harvest as the focus, the explosive return propels us into reflection on eschatological fulfilment of hopes beyond our wildest dreams. Finally, if the different types of soil are our focus, the parable urges effort to do everything possible to cull out obstacles and cultivate maximum receptivity to the word.”

In my view, if we take the other readings for today into account along with this parable–especially what Paul says in his letter to the Christian community in Rome–the focus is God’s ultimate will for all of creation, human and otherwise. As the Apostle to the Gentiles writes,

“For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom 8:19-21).

All matter matters to God, and God wills re-creation, which includes “the redemption of [not from!] our bodies” (8:23). As “the children of God” (8:18), Christians “have the firstfruits of the Spirit” (8:23) and therefore by God’s Spirit should (there’s that should word, which indicates some moral/ethical consideration is now being explicitly invoked) be revealing (i.e., witnessing, embodying, incarnating) God’s re-creative will. As Pope Benedict XVI, who is sometimes referred to as “the Green Pope,” put it in (citing other similar scriptural passages) his 2010 World Day of Peace Message:

“In the light of divine Revelation and in fidelity to the Church’s Tradition, Christians have their own contribution to make. They contemplate the cosmos and its marvels in light of the creative work of the Father and the redemptive work of Christ, who by his death and resurrection has reconciled with God ‘all things, whether on earth or in heaven’ (Col 1:20). Christ, crucified and risen, has bestowed his Spirit of holiness upon mankind, to guide the course of history in anticipation of that day when, with the glorious return of the Saviour, there will be ‘new heavens and a new earth’ (2 Pet 3:13), in which justice and peace will dwell for ever. Protecting the natural environment in order to build a world of peace is thus a duty incumbent upon each and all” (no. 14).