If we were to plant a garden this summer in our yards, we would need to make some basic preparations.
First, we would need to clearly delineate the boundaries of the garden by putting up string or even building a fence around it. Next, we would need to clear the ground by pulling up any grass or weeds which might be growing up. We would then loosen up the dirt by turning it over with a hoe and digging up any rocks we find. To make sure the soil is rich enough, we might even bring in some loam and manure. Next, we would grade the soil to make it level and then make sure it is adequately watered. Once we’ve decided what we wanted to plant, we would then make straight rows in the soil and sow the seeds.
Just as our garden needs preparation before it is ready to receive the seeds, so our soul needs preparation before it is ready to receive God’s word.
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us what prevents the seed of His word from taking root within our heart and bearing abundant fruit.
The first obstacle Jesus warns us about is lack of understanding. We all have had the experience of sitting in the pew on a Sunday morning, listening to the readings and having no idea what is being said. We do not know who the people are that the reading is referring to. We may be unfamiliar with where it is taking place and even the words sound foreign to us. Though we want to pay attention and learn from God’s word, we end up getting distracted and our mind starts to wander.
It is natural that we often find God’s word hard to comprehend. Remember, these texts were written many thousands of years ago in an original language that can be difficult to translate and in cultures that are vastly different from our modern one. Even scholars who dedicate their lives to studying the Bible can have difficulty explaining the meaning of some of its passages.
That does not mean, however, that we cannot get a good enough grasp of the Bible to understand much of what it teaches and apply it to our lives. Today’s gospel is a good example. Though Jesus speaks in a parable, we can all understand His explanation of its meaning.
Also, when we have questions about a Scripture passage, we have so many tools at our disposal to understand what its meaning is. Most Bibles today have notes along the bottom of the page that give an explanation of the readings. Also, with the internet, we can find answers within seconds to our questions. Finally, we can always turn to someone who is more knowledgeable - perhaps our parish priest or deacon - to walk us through it.
The fact that the Bible can be difficult for us to understand can be no excuse to never read it. Knowledge of Scripture is fundamental to our lives as Christians. As Saint Jerome said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Even if it means that often we will be left scratching our heads because the meaning of a passage escapes us, we must persevere in reading the Bible so that God’s word can be planted deep within us and bear abundant fruit.
The second obstacle that Jesus points out to us is a lack of perseverance. Jesus compares those who lack perseverance to rocky soil where the root cannot take hold. They are people who give up easily when the road becomes difficult or who get easily discouraged by their own weakness and failures.
There is no doubt that living God’s word in today’s world is difficult. There are those who will judge us as narrow-minded or prudish. With all the allurements around us, we often find ourselves falling short of the ideals of the gospel and sinning. It can be tempting to give up or to live our Christian commitment only on the surface. However, if we do so, God’s word cannot take deep root within us. It would be like pulling up a plant and trying to replant it. It just will not work.
What is needed, then, is for us to pick ourselves up every time we fall with the help of God’s grace and start over. God is merciful and loves us immensely. He always welcomes us back. When we fall short, we simply need to ask for His strength to continue on the road, especially when it is difficult. If we do so, then we will see the roots of His word deepening within us.
The final obstacle is one that is familiar to all of us. “The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word…” How many times have we sat in church and found that we have not paid attention to one word because we have been consumed with worry about what the week ahead will bring?
The Bible has some passages to help us overcome worry and trust more in God’s promise to provide for us.
Jesus says: “Which one of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” (Lk 12:25).
Saint Peter says: “Cast your cares on Him for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
Saint Paul says: “And my God will supply all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
Memorizing scripture verses that remind us of God’s love and care is a powerful way of easing our anxiety and helping us focus on what is most important in our lives. When we do so, we will find the peace necessary to allow God’s word to bear fruit in us.
God assures us through the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading: “...my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” Just as the tiny seed explodes with life and bears abundant fruit, so every word that comes forth from God’s mouth has the power to transform and enrich us. When we root out ignorance, inconstancy and anxiety from our souls, then God assures us we will enjoy a rich harvest of joy and peace.