September 17, 2014
Dear brothers and sisters,
The good news today comes from Mark 4:14-20, which is Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the sower.
“The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown. As soon as they hear, Satan comes at once and takes away the word sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground who, when they hear the word, receive it at once with joy. But they have no root; they last only for a time. Then when tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Those sown among thorns are another sort. They are the people who hear the word, but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word, and it bears no fruit. But those sown on rich soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”
Moloney in The Gospel of Mark says, “This parable is the key to understanding all the parables because it describes the proclamation and reception of the gospel….The direct application of that parable to the Twelve and those around Jesus accentuates their inability to understand. How are they to understand all the other parables? Experiences of tribulation, persecution, cares, riches, and desire threaten those to whom the word is given. Jesus’ word must be received if it is to bear fruit. At the heart of Jesus’ teaching by word those ‘inside’ are told of the possibility of failure. The new age has broken in, but in a mysterious way that does not eradicate every trace of the ‘old age.’ But ultimate victory and rich fruitfulness lies ahead in the seemingly impossible hundredfold harvest. The story thus far has shown both powers in action: Jesus’ bringing in the kingdom and obdurate resistance to it….[W]hat kind of soil are you?”
I am an insider; I have been given the word. The question Jesus poses to me is whether I receive it, take it into my heart and way of being. The proof of that is in the way I live my life, bearing the fruit of the word. Being a resident of the new age rather than stubbornly clinging to the life of the old age before I received the word of Jesus. Jesus has opened to kingdom to me, the new age. How am I responding? In what ways might I fail?
I think I’m in that margin where the thorny patch meets the rich soil. Recently I have fallen prey to worldly anxiety. Despite prayer and reading and reflecting on the gospels, I have let anxiety choke out the word. My craving for attention and affection, my need to be valued by others, has been encroaching on the rich soil so that I have been bearing much less fruit. I want to be rewarded for my good behavior in a way that sates my cravings. That’s not the kingdom that Jesus invites me into, not living life as Jesus modeled for me.
I’m trying to find a way out of this. I’m trying to convince myself that I am rich soil that hears Jesus’ word, accepts it, and produces fruit or actualizes the kingdom of God. As Capon writes in The Parables of the Kingdom, “The whole purpose of the coming of the Word into the world is to produce people in whom the power of the kingdom will bear fruit. But since the kingdom is fully, albeit mysteriously, present in the Word (since, in other words, the Word’s fruitfulness is not in question but is already an accomplished fact), it is chiefly for our sakes that the parable enjoins the necessity of response. The biggest difference made by responses to the Word is the difference they make to us, for us, and in us. They decide not whether the Word will achieve its purposes but whether we will enjoy his achievement — or find ourselves in opposition to it.”
Jesus wants me to bear fruit. I keep thinking of it in terms of good works, but Capon reminds me, “It is in the light of such passages as these that the parable of the Sower needs to be seen. It does indeed call for a response from us; but that response is to be one that is appropriate not to the accomplishing of a work but to the bearing of fruit. The goal it sets for us is not the amassing of deeds, good or bad, but simply the unimpeded experiencing of our life as the Word abundantly bestows it upon us.” What are those fruits? “The fruits of the Spirit however — those results that are not manufactured by our plausible and deliberate efforts but simply allowed to grow unimpeded under the guidance of the Spirit,… — are, every one of them truly human traits: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. They are not the results of, or rewards for, our frantic efforts to make ourselves right; rather, they are the very rightness for which our nature was made, bestowed upon us as a free gift.”
Why do I have such a hard time with the notion of a free gift? That there is no such thing as a free lunch is an American principle of the first order. Jesus seems to be saying, though, that all I have to do is hear his word and accept it. The Spirit will do everything else; it will produce fruit within me — that is already an accomplished fact, that is the rightness for which my nature is made. I’m trying too hard. I simply need to hear and accept the word; I simply need to rest in the love of God and relish the fruits freely offered to me. If I can manage to do that, I may be able to realize what Rohr wrote in his meditation this morning, ” It will be ‘no longer you’ who acts or contemplates, but the Life of One who lives in you, now acting for you (Father) and with you (Holy Spirit) and as you (Christ)!”
Am I going to join with Jesus in bringing the kingdom or resist him? What kind of soil am I? I am not the seed; I am only the receptacle, the soil . The kingdom is fully present in the seed; it is a gift freely given, abundantly sown. It only requires me not to be an obstacle, not to resist, not to allow worldly anxieties to intrude and choke the word. Then it will bear fruit in me and through me.