When the simple pine coffin of John Paul II was set down before the altar in St Peter’s Square, an open copy of the book of the gospels was placed upon it. Karol Wotyla had lived his whole life – as a seminarian, priest, Bishop and Pope – under the inspiration of the word of God. Throughout his entire life he preached and lived that word. There, in death this holy man – now a canonised saint – lay quite literally beneath that same word.
The prophet Isaiah likens God’s word to falling rain that moistens the earth and brings forth growth. ‘The word that goes forth from my mouth,’ says the Lord, ‘does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do’ (Is 55:10-11). Jesus qualifies that statement a little: God’s word is not a battering ram, smashing the door to our heart. The Risen Lord says, ‘Look, I am standing at the door knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in and share a meal with that person’ (Rev 3:20).
Like the sower’s seed, God’s word can fall on the edge of the path and be eaten by birds. It can also fall on shallow soil and wither under the scorching sun. And it can fall among thorns and be choked. But, when God’s word falls on fertile ground, it indeed yields a rich harvest. The gospel of Matthew was written at a time and particular context in which his Christian hearers were feeling the effects of having been ostracised from their Jewish community. The trials had proved too much for some and they fell away from their faith. Others were confounded by the fact that other Jews could not accept the person and message of Jesus as they had. We recall last Sunday’s gospel. In it Jesus blesses his disciples for their understanding of his person and his message. It is one of the most comforting pieces of scripture.
Jesus, through the parable of the sower and the seed, makes it clear to his disciples that not everyone is ready to hear and accept the message as they had. The teaching behind the parable of the sower is as true for us today as it was in its original context. The word of God continues to fall on people who are at various stages of readiness to receive it. What Jesus suggests to his disciples – and to us – is that the ‘good soil’ can’t always be taken for granted. Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples to only sow the word in people who are receptive. Rather, he wants them – and us – to scatter the word everywhere and to rejoice when it does find good soil and yields a rich harvest. Today, as I do every Sunday, I am conscious I am preaching the word to the converted.
I am aware that I am reaching only 10% of the Catholics in Sunbury. Should I be sad about that? Sure, there is reason to be sad. But, there is also good reason to rejoice, because you are here, and the word is reaching you. The word is falling on good soil, and you are that fertile soil that will produce a rich harvest, a hundred, sixty even thirty-fold. The word will make a difference to your life, and it will also make a difference to the people who are touched by you. At the end of Mass you are sent forth to spread the word by your lives and to give glory to God.
Fr Bert Fulbrook sdb

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