"FIRST IMPRESSIONS "
15th SUNDAY (A) - July 16, 2017
Isaiah 55: 10-11; Psalm 65; Romans 8: 18-23; Matthew 13:1-23
by Jude Siciliano, OP
I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard our first reading from Isaiah read at openings to a retreat, or at a preachers’ conference. It is a favorite of those who try to preach, or teach the Word of God. We’re so aware of our own inadequacies and the task that lies before us, to bring God’s Word home to our hearers and students, that we find comfort in the Isaiah reading. It reminds us that, despite our human limitations, the task of applying God’s Word to a particular people, in particular settings, is not wholly dependent on us. We’re not just speaking on our own, but are partnered with God’s fruit-bearing Word.
Isaiah himself is not speaking on his own authority either. He begins, "Thus says the Lord…." He, like us, is trying to be faithful to communicating the Word of God that he has heard. Isaiah justifies his proclamation about the fruitfulness of the Word by identifying God as its source: "My word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it." It has not come to him from some other source, but from God. The prophet stresses that God’s Word is powerful and, inspired by the natural world, he likens it to the rain with which God nourishes the land and makes it fertile.
We Christians believe that God’s Word has come to fruition in Jesus Christ – the Word made flesh. God has sown generously in Christ and through him God continues to send blessings indiscriminately among us.
We pray today we will be well disposed to welcome and receive those graces and put them to use in our lives, so that we can help bring about a rich harvest for the Lord. The Word, once welcomed, yields effects for those who, not only receive it, but put it into practice. The life-giving Word will affect how we live our lives; the friends we choose; how we care for the earth’s resources; respond to the needs of the poor and marginalized. There is no end to the impact the Word can have on us and those with whom we share it, because we trust Jesus’ promise, it will yield "a hundred or sixty, or thirtyfold."
I would choose the short version for today’s gospel. Usually I read the longer version to keep the context intact, but biblical commentators tell us that the shorter version, the parable, is probably the original one spoken by Christ. The parable is set amid stories of opposition and it must have been an encouragement to the disciples, as Jesus and they faced opposition and suspicion. Seed was spread by hand and lacked the precision of our advanced planting methods. So, the random way seed was sown inevitably had waste: birds, rocky ground and weeds destroy it.
What Jesus describes in his parable would match the effects of the early church’s preaching ventures. Things may have looked rather depressing at its beginnings, but Jesus assures his disciples God is in charge: despite the bleak initial stages there will be a harvest. Don’t be distressed, God’s ways will bear much fruit – a hundred, or sixty or thirtyfold. So, don’t give up, keep casting seeds of God’s Word and someday you’ll see extraordinary results.
If a farmer had a good harvest he/she would have a sevenfold yield to the planting. Rarely would there be a tenfold crop yield. But Jesus isn’t a farmer. We could ask, what does he know about planting and harvesting? He is not teaching farmers how to improve their crop yield, is he? What he knows from first-hand experience is how things are when God is in charge. He knows the ways of God and so he is speaking of the abundance that God can produce even when we meet frustrations and our own limited abilities. Jesus is speaking out of his own experience as he spreads the Word. For the next 15 chapters in Matthew’s gospel, he will keep preaching, teaching and healing, no matter how much rocky-ground opposition he faces. He is encouraging us to do the same. As a dear senior Dominican friend advised me, "Keep on, keeping on."
Jesus doesn’t simply give a pep talk to his disciples. He promises them a miracle. Despite the rejection they are having and will meet in the future, in the end, God will bring about an abundant harvest. He is also describing the kind of God we preach – ours is a God of abundance. Jesus could have promised a very good harvest of seven or tenfold. His hearers would have been satisfied. Instead, he reveals the God of superabundance; promising much more than just satisfaction. Who wouldn’t love working and, continuing to work for, that kind of God?! God will not let us run dry but will provide more than enough for those who spread the Word of God and for those who receive it on good soil.
It does seem that this farmer scatters seed haphazardly. The method of sowing seed in Jesus’ day was first to scatter the seed, then turn the soil. Still, it’s clear in the parable, a lot of seed is wasted. I am a planner and I wonder if we careful sowers aren’t, at times, too cautious in our planting: how we start new ventures in the parish; how we try to pick the best settings and make sure the right people are invited; how we pay too close attention to the bottom line? Is Jesus inviting us not to be afraid to take chances, since the results of our sowing aren’t totally dependent on us? We are the instruments of a venturesome and abundant God. After all aren’t we prime examples of how God takes big chances by choosing disciples like us to preach the Word?
The Word of God speaks personally to each of us on how, why and where we spread the Word. But the gospel is also addressed to the whole community – the church. The Word is a bold one for us today; it speaks of courage and offers us hope. We may wonder at times how effective the church is in the world. We’ve had enough evidence of our limitations and sins.
At times it is hard to see just how God’s kingdom is taking hold and bearing fruit. Where, we might ask, has the church’s values had any effect on the world’s values? The gospel tells us today, as my old mentor would say, "Keep on keeping on." God is working through us flawed instruments to bring about God’s plan for the world. There will be an abundant harvest, even if we don’t see it now. The parable encourages us to have hope, as we wait to see the seed come to fruition.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071617.cfm
JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD
We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even
In the above passage, Paul is saying that creation as we know it is like a woman in labor who is about to give birth. We human beings are midwives to that birth. The Catholic Church has a long and storied tradition of care of creation culminating in Pope Francis’ most recent clarion call in his document, Laudato Si’, wherein he states, "Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to ‘till and keep’ the garden of the world (cf Gen. 2:15). ‘Tilling’ refers to cultivation, plowing or working, while ‘keeping’ means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving" (67). Laudato Si’ challenges us to "hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor" through ecological conversion, changes in lifestyle and society, and strong political action. What are Catholic Christians to do? I offer the following suggestions:
1. Read Laudato Si’ for free at:http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html
2. Take the Laudato Si Pledge. This pledge is a worldwide campaign by the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM) and its member organizations to raise awareness of the Laudato Si’ message and to encourage
Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
Director of Social Justice Ministries
Sacred Heart Cathedral Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
Jesus told the crowds:
"A sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path
and birds came and ate it up."
God is working through us flawed instruments to bring about God’s plan for the world. There will be an abundant harvest, even if we don’t see it now. The parable encourages us to have hope, as we wait to see the seed come to fruition.
So we ask ourselves:
POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES
"The use of the death penalty cannot really be mended. It should be ended."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
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If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.
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(These CDs have been updated twice in the last five years.)
2. "Homilias Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. atmailto:Jboll@opsouth.org 3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilias Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.
4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to
prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you
would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to
fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.
Thank you and blessings on your preaching,
fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.
St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas
3150 Vince Hagan Drive
Irving, Texas 75062-4736