Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 10 July 2011
Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 65:10-14; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 13:1-23
The rains soaking the earth, the seed sprouting – the images in today’s reading are of a world bursting with life. Here we don’t find the idea of a harvest wrested from a hostile earth – God prepares the ground, provides the seed, waters it, and grants the harvest. God’s provision is indiscriminate, extravagant, even wasteful. There is no careful targeting of the fields by the rain – it falls everywhere. Even the sower in Jesus’ parable doesn’t seem concerned to limit the scattering of the seed to the places where it will most likely take root. Much of the seed does not produce anything. That’s how nature works: thousands of eggs for only one full-grown turtle, millions of sperm for one baby. How much fruit does a single tree produce, and how many new trees? Most of the fruit and most of the seed simply go to waste, but some of it feeds the birds. When I reflect upon the cycles in nature and on the evolutionary process, I am struck by how the wastefulness and the dead ends are themselves part of the process. As Teilhard de Chardin put it: “Trust in the slow work of God.” The story told from the perspective of a single seed or a single raindrop may read like a meaningless tragedy but taken up into the bigger picture, it is a note in the magnificent symphony of creation.
These images throw light on how God is at work in Jesus’ own ministry and the two thousand year old legacy to which it gave birth. Jesus lived and taught the kingdom of God in ancient Palestine. Some people ignored him, others misunderstood him, but still he sowed the seed. It bore fruit in the lives of some of his followers, and gave birth to a new religious movement. The seed continues to be sown. It is still ignored, snatched away, even put to evil use. Much of what was and is done in Christ’s name has no divine seed at its heart. It is rather the thorns and thistles that choke the seed. But still the seed is sown. And despite all the waste, the wrong turns, the dead ends, some of the seed finds fertile soil and produces an abundant harvest.
Paul regards the cosmos as a work in progress. Shifting the metaphor slightly to childbirth, he dwells on the difficulties of being caught up in the process, waiting for the work of God to reach its fulfillment. But despite the slowness and the difficulty of the process, he is utterly convinced that the end result will be glorious. He has experienced enough of the work of God germinating, growing and producing a harvest in his own life to be utterly convinced that the will of God will also be accomplished on a cosmic scale.
The work of God is often slow, but it is sure. We can trust the process. To quote Teilhard de Chardin again: “Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.” The Kingdom of God is a work in progress. The harvest is promised, and it is certain.