Rain, Seed, Harvest – the Word of God
One of the great mysteries of life is the way everything grows from a tiny beginning. Even single cell creatures must start somehow. Division of a single cell into two is a common mode of birth for such beings. But they are not fully grown at the time they pop into being. Both the old and new cells are smaller than the original one had become at the time of the division.
For larger creatures, dividing and forming an exact copy of an older one is not an option. The pattern we see is of a very small cell with genetic material that somehow guides it as it grows and changes into increasingly more complex states. Eventually, the organism gets large enough and developed enough to survive on its own and even reproduce.
The prophet Isaiah reminds the people of his time (and all of us) that the rain and snow which fall on the earth are essential for the growth of the plants on which we all depend. They come from the heavens and return only after fulfilling their role on earth. The Lord, through his prophet, says that his word is the same in this regard. The Lord’s word goes forth from heaven and does not return until its purpose has been attained.
Jesus speaks of this same reality and the conditions that affect the way the process unfolds. “A sower went out to sow.” Those who are not close to the land may never have experienced the scenario Jesus presents. Seeds are very small. Traditionally, they were scattered by hand out onto the fields. Later, machines were invented to throw the seeds out in a pattern onto the fields. Today, there are even more precise machines that poke the seeds into the soil one-by-one and add a bit of fertilizer to help the seed grow. There is much more accuracy to today’s planting methods, and presumably, better yields at harvest time. The newer method also allows farmers to care for the soil more effectively, not having to plow under the remaining short stalks and roots of the prior year’s crop and risk having the soil blown away in a windstorm or washed away in the rain.
But when Jesus was speaking, and even today for farmers around the world, seeds were tossed out across the land by the farmers. Fields are not typically surrounded by solid walls. They are bordered by roads or paths. The soil on the path or road is hard. Seeds may sprout, but only with difficulty. Lots of them become food for the birds or other small animals. Then there are the areas where there are lots of rocks. Not a lot of soil to cuddle around the roots of the plants there either. Again, they don’t survive in large numbers. They are easy to pull and dry out quickly. And then the thorns. Have you ever tried to grow a lawn or garden beside a berry patch? The berry plants send out roots far into the area around them. Anything growing inside the berry patch is not going to produce well. The berries pull the nutrients for their own fruit. It’s a continual battle to beat back the berries and let the grass grow. The same goes for wheat and other grain crops growing beside thorny plants.
Fortunately, there are large expanses of land which are not filled with rocks or thorns onto which the seeds also can fall. In a good year, with adequate rain and dry weather as the grain matures and harvest time nears, a good crop will be harvested.
I grew up in a family in which some members were and still are farmers. In Eastern Washington, farmers often grow winter wheat. It is planted in the fall and sprouts before everything gets too cold. Then the snow comes and covers the land. Growth stops, but the plants are protected from the extreme cold that would kill them if they weren’t small and insulated. As the snow melts, the ground is watered and growth resumes. By June, the crop is growing beautifully, forming heads of seeds for the next season. The plants don’t know it, but they are also growing to be food for humans and animals. As the season moves on to August, we all hold our breath. Will the weather hold until the grain can be harvested? Will the storms that inevitably come through go around the family farms?
Lives can be and have been changed dramatically by the luck of the weather. Two harvests-hailed-out in a row sent my grandparents from Montana to Spokane, Washington, where Grandpa worked as a brake mechanic for the city bus lines for the rest of his career. Other relatives had better luck. The harvests were good enough to keep going another year. It’s not surprising that farmers take pictures of their fields as the grain is growing. It’s so beautiful. And then they take pictures of the harvest too!
For Jesus, there was a lesson to be learned from the sowing and harvesting. The word comes forth from the Father. It lands in different ways among the people who hear it. Some simply don’t understand what they are hearing and are easily convinced that it means nothing for them. Some receive it happily, but when opposition arises, they don’t hold on to it. Some hear it and want to grow, but they get worried about the future and how they’ll get along, and they can’t keep going. But there are some who hear the word and it takes deep root within them. These are the ones whose faith sustains them, allows them to share with others, and carries the Father’s word forward in the world. The community grows as the word is shared and lived.
Sometimes we can get to thinking in very abstract ways about questions of faith. How does God do this or that? Who or what is God? Why does God let bad things happen? Why can’t God do bad things? Or can he? Many, many questions and concerns. But the very basic reality is that God is both practical and optimistic. God sends out a word to bring forth all of creation. God’s word is like a tiny seed, that grows and bears fruit, including seeds to continue the cycle. Each time, more are created.
St. Paul tells us that creation itself is waiting, groaning in labor pains, for the triumph of the harvest of the freedom of the children of God. The word of the sower grows in all of creation and in human society, as we learn to care for each other and this home we have in common, our Earth. When we accept the love and forgiveness of God, and become God’s children, the word is fulfilled and returns to the Father.
As we move through this coming week, may we be alert to the ways in which the word has been sown in our lives. Are we open to growing in love? Are we sharing a smile? Are we patiently helping a family member or friend who simply needs a hand now and again? Where are the seeds sown in our lives taking us? Are we ready and willing to go?
Readings for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A
Many thanks for this photo to my “cousin” Scott whose uncle and my aunt were married. Scott took this photo of one of his fields a few years ago.