The women in today’s Liturgy of the Word give us contrasting views of the spiritual life. In our first reading, the women give us the example of what not to do. Solomon, known for his wisdom and dedication to God by building the temple, is soon seduced by the foreign women he had married to abandon God. They entice him to abandon the worship of the one, true God in order to worship and adore their so-called gods.
Marrying into the families of the foreigners among them was a real problem for the Israelites. God had forbidden them to do so, and when they did this, they were soon led astray and picked up the pagan customs of the world around them. It’s kind of a metaphor for what can go wrong in our spiritual lives. If we keep our eyes on Christ and follow the way he has laid out for us, we can progress in our devotion. But the minute we start looking at other things, we can soon be distracted from the straight and narrow.
On the other hand, we have the wonderful Syrophoenician woman in the Gospel. She knows exactly where to look for salvation and she persists in it. When it seemed that Jesus was not interested in helping her daughter, she persisted because she knew that Christ alone could heal her daughter and expel the demon.
Once again, there’s a deeper message here. I don’t think any of us believes that Jesus wasn’t interested in healing the woman’s daughter. I just think he knew her faith and wanted to give those who were in the house where he was to see that faith. The story gives us, too, the opportunity to asses our own faith in God, not looking to other things or foreign gods to bring us salvation. If these women teach us anything in today’s readings, it’s that we need to be focused on our God alone.
This morning’s Gospel passage is the explanation of the parable of the seed and the sower, which we heard on Wednesday morning. What we quickly find out is that the parable is all about us. Clearly the ideal is the good soil which produces much fruit, and just as clearly, we don’t want to be the soil on the path or the rocky soil, or even the soil with the thorny growth. All those soils yield nothing but dead plants, hardly an offering to God or even anything that would be pleasing to us.
When we allow ourselves to have a surface-level relationship with God, one that is not nourished by devotion and worship, we end up being easy picking for anything in the world that comes away and would snatch us out of the hands of God. Just like the soil on the path, such as it is.
When we think that we can live our faith without any kind of effort on our part, we end up with a very shallow basis for that faith. We sometimes latch on to the joy of religion or religious experience, but when it becomes hard work, we let go and have no way to keep growing. Just like the rocky soil.
When we try to live our faith and still be people of the world, we find that the faith gets choked out as our desire for more riches, more things, more prestige – or more whatever – overshadows our desire for strong relationship with God. We can’t serve two masters, and we soon take the path of least resistance, abandoning the faith for what we think will give us more happiness, at least right now. And when that fails us, we wither up and have nowhere to turn. Just like the soil with the thorny growth.
But it can’t be that way for disciples of the Lord. We have to have a faith that goes beyond the surface so that we can really know God. We have to have a faith that is developed by embracing the hard work of repentance and devotion so that we can continue to dig deep into the life of God. We have to have a faith that is single-minded and not subject to whatever ill-winds and thorns come along. We have to be that rich soil which yields not only joy for ourselves, but grace for others.