15th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 19, 1984
Isaiah 55: 10-11
Matt 13: 1-9
Holy Rosary, Birmingham, Ala.
Since it appears that it will be a while before I have Sunday Mass assignments in the D.C. area, I'll be posting a lot of old homilies.
“My word … shall not return to me void but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it” (Is 55: 11).
We speak of the Scriptures as the word of God, of Jesus as the word made flesh, of homiletics as preaching the word. God’s revelation, called the word when spoken, written, or incarnate, is the focal point of our faith.
God’s word is powerful and effective, we’re told today. It’s not revealed in vain. It’s not preached to be fruitless. Jesus isn’t an empty-handed Savior.
The 1st reading comes from that part of the book of Isaiah, ch. 40-55, which modern scholars call Second Isaiah. These utterances of the word of God came thru an anonymous prophet living among the exiled Jewish community in Babylon about 540 years B.C. their message is a word of liberation, of deliverance from captivity. In a style similar to the original Isaiah’s 200 years earlier, Second Isaiah predicts a new exodus thru the desert, comparable to the saving exodus from Egypt 800 years before.
In a number of places, the prophet, speaking in God’s name, says, “This prophecy will be carried out, and thus you’ll know it’s true.” Today’s 2 verses are one of those places. When rain falls from heaven, it waters the earth; it makes even the desert bloom. It makes nourishing food grow. Even so will God’s word be fertile, productive, effective. Even so will the word of liberation become the reality of a homeward exodus across the desert from Babylon to Jerusalem.
And so it happened within a few years of Second Isaiah’s prophetic ministry. Almost out of nowhere, Cyrus the Great, king of the Medes and Persians, swooped down on Babylon and destroyed its empire. Soon after, he issued a decree that allowed exiles to return to their homelands, and the Jews returned and rebuilt Jerusalem, which had been leveled 50 years earlier. The hardships of exile were over.
Those hardships had taught God’s people, in the meantime, a greater fidelity to the Lord, had induced them to develop a new form of public worship, the synagog service, and had inspired their scribes to write down and codify the sacred traditions, the holy Scriptures. “My word … shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”
Image taken from blog
The parable of the sower emphasizes not only the effectiveness of the word but the odds against it. The farmers to whom Jesus preached certainly knew the odds of sowing and harvesting. Their method of sowing grain was the simplest, the most primitive. They just walked up and down their fields with a sackful of seed, tossing our handfuls as they went: no digging, no plowing, no weeding. Whatever took, took; whatever grew, grew. If the farmer got back 6 or 8 times what he’d sown, he had a fine harvest, enuf to put aside for the next year and enuf to live on till then. But the risks from birds, weeds, poor soil, and lack of rain were rather obvious.
Despite the odds of a hostile environment, the word of God, the Gospel message of Jesus, will take root, will grow, will bear abundant fruit. It is a word of liberation, of salvation, for individuals and for society. “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matt 13: 9). Let him be encouraged. If many don’t accept the word, if the word seems to be spoken or written in vain, let him not fear. God is the harvest master. If you’re trying to teach the meaning of the Gospel to your children, if you’re working actively for some particular social goal, if you’re praying for some special purpose, if you’re trying to practice the Gospel in your own life, and the results are anything but evident—hang in. It took St. Monica 30 years of prayer before her son Augustine was baptized. It took Christianity 280 years and countless martyrs just to become legally acceptable in the Roman Empire, and still more to make at least an outward transformation of Roman culture.
Against all odds, God will see that the harvest is unbelievably rich, not 6- or 8-fold, but 30-, 60-, 100-fold. No matter how few seem to hear and accept the message of Jesus, it will be accepted; it will take root in the hearts of men and women; it will bear rich fruit in their lives. In the end, God’s word is just as powerful, just as irresistible, as at the moment of creation when God said: “let there be light,” and there was light (Gen 1:3). “My word shall not return to me void.”
That word is given to us today in a world that makes long odds against it, both in our personal lives and in our culture. We can hear the word in the Sunday liturgy, in the Bible we read at home, in the public teaching our bishops and the Holy Father. The word is opposed by selfishness, consumerism, an inordinate desire for national security, the pursuit of the dollar, and private enterprise. If it took faith to believe that Second Isaiah’s message came from God and would become reality, if it took faith to believe that Jesus was revealing the very person of God, it takes no less faith to hear the Gospel today, to hear God speaking to us and commanding us to put our trust in him in our work for peace, our care for the poor, our openness to life in our love, our defense of human life. “Him who has ears, let him hear.” The word is sown in our hearts. It will bear fruit. May it bear fruit in your heart and in mine.