Readings: Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 64; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 13:1-23
The good soil on which the seed of God's Word falls must have three characteristics. It must have the capacity to hear the Word of God. It must have the capacity to understand the Word of God. And it must have the capacity to put the Word of God into practice. The earlier kinds of soil on which the seed might fall - by the wayside, on rocks, among thorns - all lack one or more of these characteristics and so the seed cannot take root, grow strong and bear fruit, in any of them.
It means there are three critical moments for the life of faith. When we reflect on the well-being of our faith - how strong, how healthy, is my faith? - it is useful to give attention to each of these moments.
Firstly the Word of God must be heard. So what are the difficulties, internal and external, that get in the way of hearing the Word of God? How can we hope to hear a Word from God if we do not put ourselves in the way of receiving such a Word? Perhaps we rarely go to Church and rarely read the Bible. But life itself often conspires to wake us up, to bring us back to reality, and to get us thinking about it all again.
Our reflections will show that there are many things, very practical things, which we can do if we want to hear better the Word which God wants to speak to us. We need to dedicate time and space in order to be available to God. We need to be in places where we can hear or read the Bible. We need to clear our lives of distractions that will interfere with clear reception of the Word. We need to put to one side for the moment doubts and hesitations that might arise in our hearts and minds, undermining our confidence in what we are trying to do. All too often such doubts succeed in preventing us entering into the necessary kind of silence in which we can listen out for what God wants to say to us.
It can seem a bit spooky to say 'listen out for what God wants to say to you'. How can a human person actually hear the voice of God? It means reading the Bible or listening to it being read. It means attending liturgies where the scriptures are proclaimed and explained. It means attending to the ruminations in our hearts and minds to see what is on my mind? what is weighing on my heart? Such things might be distractions, getting in the way, but more often than not they are telling us 'where we are' and what it is we would like to speak to God about. Perhaps he wishes to speak with us about those things, or perhaps he wants to draw our attention to something we are forgetting.
Secondly the Word of God must be understood. Some of the less favourable soil succeeds in hearing the Word but cannot make the move to understanding it. This requires study and prayer. We must make some effort to understand the nature of the Bible, the different kinds of texts it includes, the ways in which the different books relate to each other historically and in regard to what they teach. We must put ourselves in the way of hearing people speak about it, see what the Church's tradition says about it, reflect on some representations of Biblical characters and events in art or in music.
The internet now offers countless commentaries on the Bible, many of them spoken, many of them written. Go surfing and see what you find. If there is a text you find difficult to understand put it in a Google search and see what comes up. Of course there will be a variety of interpretations, and not all interpreters speak with the same authority. But it is part of the richness of the Word of God that it evokes such diverse echoes in the minds and lives of so many people.
Don't be afraid to add your own interpretation, asking God's Holy Spirit to guide and inspire you. After all we are thinking now about what it is God might want to say to you in his Word. Be attentive also to what is happening in the world around you, in your own life and relationships and activities, as well as to what is going on in the world at large. God speaks to us also through things and events and people, often in combination with the Biblical texts we are thinking about at any particular moment.
Thirdly the Word of God must bear fruit. In his letter Saint James says we are to be doers of the Word and not hearers only. In saying this he is simply repeating the teaching of Jesus, that the one who builds his house on rock is the one who not only hears (and perhaps also understands) the Word but who puts it into practice.
Just as we must put to one side voices and distractions that would undermine our confidence in trying to hear the Word or in trying to understand the Word, we must do the same when those voices and distractions try to undermine our confidence in living out what the Word asks of us. A voice might tell us that we are hypocrites or pretentious, that we are looking for notice or acting out of pride, that is simply another form of egoism or of imposing ourselves on others. The demons are very inventive in the ways in which they try to upset us. But God is infinitely creative even if to ourselves we feel we are 'without form and empty'.
Just as the sower will presumably have to persevere through clouds of insects, sweat, challenging terrain and other physical distractions, so we need to persevere through these three stages in the life of faith: hearing, understanding, bearing fruit. We will discover quickly also that it is not a straight line, this journey of faith. Sometimes we are putting the Word into practice without fully understanding it or when, for some reason, we have become hard of hearing. Or we may be puzzled and perplexed by a Word, not yet understanding how it is a Word of God to me. But very often it is in doing the Word that understanding finally comes.
In the life of faith it is always the season for sowing, always the season for letting the crop mature, always the season for reaping the harvest. Let us give ourselves to its demands once again, listening in prayer and attentiveness, seeking to understand through study and reflection, putting it into practice in mercy and charity. By God's grace each one will bear even richer fruit, thirty or sixty or even a hundredfold.