Many of us have planted gardens, maybe you’ve put in some plants this year. But I’m always astounded when I’ve planted some seeds. Here is this tiny, dead-looking thing: how can it ever give life to a large plant? But that’s just what happens, isn’t it? We carefully plant the seeds and then care for them – giving them water and keeping out the weeds and feeding them on occasion – and just about always they give life, flowers or vegetables for our table. It’s a way to experience the miracle of life, that something dead can give life and sustenance to the living. What a beautiful little model of salvation the seed is!
But if you’ve carefully planted seeds in rows at any point, you might wonder a bit about the methods used in today’s gospel reading. Seed is scattered willy-nilly and a lot of it seems to be wasted. But the original hearers of the parable would have understood what Jesus was saying. It was the method used at that time: seed would be scattered, and then the soil would be tilled thus planting the seeds. And so they would have understood that sometimes the seed falls in places the farmer didn’t intend, and those seeds don’t come to life, or if they do, it’s not for long.
So Jesus explains the parable for his disciples and for us. The seed is the seed of faith. God scatters it with wild abandon, pouring it out freely that his chosen ones – that’s you and me, by the way – would come to know him. Sometimes it works: we receive the seed of faith, it’s watered in the sacrament of baptism, and we are fertile ground letting it come up and grow and give life to the world. But sometimes it doesn’t work.
The seed might fall in a place where the faith is not nourished and Christ is not known. If these places on the earth don’t have the gift of missionaries, the faith might never grow in those people. Or maybe, a little closer to home, the seed falls on those whose turbulent lives can’t give the seed any roots: they receive the word of God with joy, but the trials and tribulations of daily living upset the apple-cart and the faith never really sinks in. Or, even closer to home, maybe it falls on us embroiled as we are with the cares of the world. The “weeds” of our living are improper relationships, too much time playing video games or surfing the wrong places of the internet, watching too much television, especially Oprah or Dr. Phil. There is so much that can distract us from our faith, and too often, we don’t weed the gardens of our souls the way we should.
We, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, are called to be rich, fertile ground to give life to the faith planted in our hearts. That means that we must keep ourselves fresh by renewing the waters of baptism in our hearts. We must feed that seed of faith by dedicating ourselves to the Eucharist and coming to Mass all the time, whether it’s convenient or not. We must weed out the distractions of our lives and give that seed of faith room to grow. We must shine the brilliant sunlight of God’s love on that faith by living the Gospel and reaching out in love to brothers and sisters who are in need.
We are the ones who have been called to yield “a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” The seed of faith comes in the form of something that might look dead – Christ’s saving action on the cross. When we water and feed and weed and let the light shine on that faith, we can give life to the world around us and give witness that the world’s death is no match for the salvation we have in Christ.