Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Depth of the Soil

Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Casey Anthony was acquitted of murder charges this past week, and the outrage spread like wildfire throughout the coffee shops and Internet social networks like rattlesnake venom through a bite victim's blood; and it is a coin toss as to which is more toxic! Jesus the Christ was tortured and murdered for crimes He did not commit but for which humanity was judged guilty as charged, yet His blood atoned for those "crimes", He was raised from the grave to give us hope in the Resurrection, and yet His name is invoked more often as a statement of dismay, surprise, and shock than in reverence and hope and blessing - if it is mentioned at all.

Never mind nonbelievers. Within such an observation as I have just shared, what nonbelievers do or don't do, what they say or don't say, what they think or don't think has no bearing and no relevance. But in a believer's righteous indignation that a small child is dead and no one - so far - has been held responsible for that death, we are far more willing to tell others how "stupid" the prosecutors or the jurors were than we are to tell our neighbors that they, too, have been "acquitted" of crimes against their Creator by the atoning blood of the Lamb of God - in spite of their unquestioned guilt! We are more willing to try and convince the world that the person accused and acquitted of Caylee's blood really is guilty while ignoring the spiritual reality that in spite of humanity's best effort AND profound guilt, the Holy Father took our very worst and still gave us His very best!

It is this very Word, this Good News Jesus is referring to in His parable of the sower and the seed. It is the Word which comes directly from Heaven above and is brought forth to a nonbelieving world for this reason alone: so that you and I - and everyone we know or come into contact with - can know the depth of suffering our Lord was willing to endure to pay the price for our sins. It is the Word which existed from the very beginning and it is the Word which will endure to the very end, yet it is also the Word that - while no less true - is void of any meaning if the environment (the "soil" as the "soul") is not ready or willing to receive it on the Lord's terms and not our own.

Jesus explains the parable pretty clearly as to what happens in each of the circumstances He refers to. The seeds which fell on the path and were snatched up by birds are the seeds "dropped" on unprepared ground. It may be like us carrying a bucket of seed to the field but tripping on the way. Before we can get the seed collected, birds would get their fill. This is the evil one taking what is good and is manifest in our utter rejection of the Lord and His Word.

The seeds sown on the rocky ground have just enough soil to take a little root but because that soil lacks depth, the seed is uprooted at the first sign of trouble. These are among us who more like the idea of a "magical genie god" who grants personal wishes but cannot fathom a "loving" God who would allow bad things to happen - such as the unexplained death of an innocent child.

The seeds sown among the thorns, quite simply, come to those of us who feel compelled to make a choice between what WE want and what the Holy Father wants for us as we become aware of what discipleship actually involves. In discipleship we discover we cannot always have it our way; that we cannot always do as we please or as we will because often what we want for ourselves may be diametrically opposed to the will of our Holy Father. We would choose wealth and worldly comfort, political power and community affluence, and "cheap grace" that requires nothing of us long before we would even think of assuming the role of a "humble" servant.

The soil's depth is measured in responsiveness, willingness, and finally, "crop yield". It goes far beyond a mere willingness to believe in such a concept, which is the limitation of the seeds sown among the rocks. It extends far beyond being willing to minister to or "like" or "associate" only with those whose images and lives are pleasing and perhaps of some future usefulness to us. The world uses us like it uses any other "beast of burden" and will use us until we are used up and finally consumed - so - we use the world first for our well-being ... intending to get "ours" first.

"The one who hears the word and understands it" is the one who is willing to listen and consider what is being told. This is the one who is willing to "count the cost" of discipleship, to study the word and "reach" beyond one's own comfort zone. These are the ones who are willing to step up and out - rather than to sit comfortably and expect the Word to be "spoon-fed" only in doses AND interpretations pleasing to us and that will be custom-tailored to fit within our lifestyle choices. Among the situations mentioned by Jesus, this is the most difficult among them because this is the one that requires effort and sacrifice (not either/or); it gets inside of us and challenges us to our core. It compels us to battle against our nature and personal inclinations.

Above all else this is the one whose soil is of such depth and endurance that the seed will not only grow strong and healthy, it is also the seed that will reproduce and in such abundance that what was lost on the path, among the rocks, and in the thorns will be more than made up for in the good soil - all for the sake of achieving the Lord's own purposes, not our own. The "crop yield" will be according to how we respond to what has been given to us and how willing we are to submit ourselves to what has been offered. It will also be, in no small measure, according to how adequately we have been prepared to receive such seed by priests, preachers, and teachers who have come before us because we will be called upon soon enough to take their places. Not all in a professional vocation, of course, but no less important to the Kingdom of Heaven in the work of the Holy Church, the Body of Christ.

Among the scenarios offered by Jesus, the last one with the "yield" is the one He focuses on and emphasizes because, quite frankly, it is the one He expects of His followers, His Church - because the metaphor is indicative of what John the Baptist meant in Luke 3 by "bearing fruit worthy of repentance". It is the evidence shown by our acts that we have heard, we understand, and we eagerly respond to His call. Repentance is not simply a turning away or merely refraining from doing bad things. Repentance is NOT benign. Rather repentance is the act of faith and a turning toward something much better and much greater than self-satisfaction or escaping personal judgment. It is in the act of repentance when we show Jesus that we hear Him, we understand Him, and - most importantly - that we trust Him enough to come to Him rather than to demand He come to us. This is the "fruit worthy of repentance".

It really does not matter whether we have been raised in the Church and have never struggled with a fundamental belief, or if we are in the midst of a faith struggle even now. Making a conscious decision to come to Christ - in the midst of struggle AND good times - will change our lives for the better; for it is this decision that moves us one step closer still to the Promised Land and keeps us from looking back. It is the journey that moves faithfully from generation to generation. It is the depth of the soil that sustains the fruit needed to strengthen us for the challenges that are sure to come, and it is the nourishment to give us the courage to strive beyond the horizon. It is the Word of the Lord; it is the Lamb of God. Amen.

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