Welcome to sackcloth, ashes and hairshirts! However, if this is your chosen Lenten garb, remember that you need the permission of your regular confessor! Personally I would never allow it...
In general the scriptures have many examples of apparent paradoxes and enigmas. TODAY’S OLD TESTAMENT READING [ISAIAH 55: 10 – 11] tells us that “so shall my word that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty.” Yet, TODAY’S GOSPEL [MATTHEW 13: 1 – 23] teaches clearly that God’s word(the seed that is sown) does not always produce what was planted. “When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart.“
So, what are the truths of faith contained in this paradox? It is important we should understand.
First of all, we must bear in mind that the Book of Isaiah was written after the Babylonian Exile. The Jewish people had returned to Jerusalem and the new Temple is being (or had been) rebuilt. They had deserted their God through unfaithfulness and disobedience, and this had resulted in their captivity and exile. However, God’s plan could not thwarted. The Lord’s intervention resulted in their repentance – and he had worked yet another miracle by ensuring that they were, eventually, allowed to return from Babylon.
God’s living word (his plan for the world) was not returning to him empty. The Kingdom continued to be established. Nevertheless, in all ages the good seed the Lord sows falls, in individual circumstances, “on rocky ground.” What we need to understand is that, with the coming of Word of God made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ,
God’s Kingdom has arrived.
We are living, now in our present age, in the Kingdom. We are members and citizens of the Kingdom
. This should never be in doubt. Saint Peter tells us that we “are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation, and a people claimed by God for his own” [1 Peter 2: 9].
However, the Kingdom has yet to reach its completion and climax. Saint Paul tells us that “when all things are thus subject to him, then the Son himself will also be made subordinate to God who made all things subject to him, and thus God will be all in all”
[1 Corinthians 15:28]. This is precisely what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer – “thy kingdom come.” So, God’s word does not return to him empty.
While this Kingdom moves to its fullness the word of God continues to be sown among men and women. It is in
THIS sowing that we so often fail to understand what the Lord is sowing in what, from time to time, can only be described as his drought-stricken vineyard! Some weeks ago we recorded the challenge of Saint Jerome – that ignorance of the scriptures was ignorance of God. Most of us do, in the main, manage to provide good soil for the seed and produce, in varying quantities, an acceptable harvest. This occurs when we make the effort to understand what God is saying to us. There are times when understanding is refused – and his word falls among weeds or on rocky soil. Then “the evil one comes and snatches away.” This often happens “when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the world.”
What I must recognise and welcome is that the Lord sows his seed in my life on a daily basis. His sowing is not a one-off activity. The Lord speaks to and challenges me on a daily basis. In order for this to bear even a small harvest I must be willing to nurture what is being sown. I need to make time to hear as well as understand what he is wanting from me. What does
he wants me to produce in my life? Whatever it is will contribute to the growth of his kingdom as well as its eventual fulfilment. Yesterday’s message may not be reproduced today – and, very often, today’s will not be what he will ask of me tomorrow. In many ways this approach finds a resonance in TODAY’S PSALM [65 or 64]. “You visit the earth, give it water; you fill it with riches. God’s ever-flowing river brims over to prepare the grain.” The Lord prepares the grain but in some mysterious manner I must produce the harvest he expects from me.
It is the mutual interaction between the Lord and me that, as Isaiah tells us today, accomplishes what the Lord intends, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
At the end of all this it is of enormous benefit to our labours in the Lord’s vineyard if we develop the habit of recognising precisely the location in our living of the rocky ground as well as the thorns. Believe me both are present in each of our lives. None of us find it easy to mark the locations of either the rocks or the thorns. However, they are there. They need to be located.
Otherwise, very often, we may long to see and hear and achieve neither. The unidentified rocks and thorns are the barriers of our own making. We need the depth of soil to which Jesus refers in our Gospel extract. Well, depth of soil requires digging.