I like the way today’s gospel reading begins, with Jesus going out to sit beside the sea. I can easily imagine that, as sitting beside the sea is one of my favourite things to do. I generally prefer my own company when I do that, so I would have been less happy with the crowd that gathered around Jesus. He doesn’t seem to mind, though; he just gets into a nearby boat, using it to create a bit of space while he tells the crowd some stories.
The crowd hears only the stories, we are told, while any explanations, such as in the second part of today’s reading, are reserved for the disciples. Perhaps that’s how one became a disciple, by listening to the stories Jesus told and finding oneself sufficiently intrigued by them that one later goes to Jesus and asks him what he’s talking about. Listening is what Jesus asks the crowd to do; hearing what his stories are really about is what Jesus invites the disciples into.
Beyond seeds and soils, in this case, there is the word of God and how it affects our lives. I suppose the various responses Jesus identifies in his explanation to the disciples might be examples of the different ways in which we might respond to the word of God at a given time in our lives under certain circumstances around us and within us that might affect our ability to receive the word.
At times we might not be able to understand, or we might be easily discouraged, or we might be distracted by the cares of this world, or we might perhaps even find ourselves able to receive and nurture the word and allow it to work its purpose in us so that we can learn to live more freely with greater peace and joy. I think it is even possible to respond in all these ways at the same time, being unable, for example, to understand or relate to certain people God brings into our lives while engaging fully and effectively with others.
I do believe that in great mercy and grace our compassionate and generous God does not speak his word of lovingkindness just once into our lives. As I’m sure that sower goes out again and again, season after season, to scatter the seed wherever it might fall, so I believe God speaks into our lives again and again, using whatever means and people he can find to try to break through the hard places of our hearts.
All soil starts out as rock, after all. Last season’s hard ground might have been softened by the time the sower come around with his seed once more. Our determinedly loving God is more persistent than that sower. Life keeps happening to us, and God keeps speaking into the opportunities life creates for his word, hoping that this time we will hear and be set free to respond wholeheartedly without fear to God’s invitation to live more fully beyond ourselves.
The apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans puts it in terms of a tension between knowing what we ought to do and being willing and able to actually do the things that ultimately are in our own and everybody else’s best interest. The selfish natural inclinations of our disordered human nature tend to weaken the effectiveness of the Law of God in our actual living, even though we might acknowledge that Law to be good.
Paul recognizes that it takes more than sheer will power on our part to live our lives according to God’s desire for us, and Paul insists that what God has done through sending Jesus into our world in our likeness has been to nullify the hold that our natural inclinations have over us and our decisions and actions. God’s Spirit has made a home in us through what Jesus has done and is able to help us to set our minds on ways that are pleasing to God, ways of life and peace for all.
The prophet Isaiah insists that God’s word will ultimately accomplish God’s good purpose in our lives and will succeed in the thing for which God sent it, bringing joy and peace after it. Sometimes we might find that the work of God’s Spirit in us has prepared us to receive and nurture the word that comes to us from God and to live in response to our understanding of that word, to live beyond our narrow self-interest and preoccupations with having things our way. Then it is, even for a moment, that we might be thrilled by mountains and hills bursting into song while the trees of the field clap their hands as the kingdom of God takes deeper root in us all.