This weekend the Lord tells his followers a parable about a man who goes out to plant a field.
I guess we can only imagine what method was used to plant the seeds, but I always imagine a man with a big sack on his hip with a strap over his shoulder. As he goes out to the field he simply walks around and throws handfuls of seed as he goes. It’s no wonder that the seed is all over the place.
Jesus tells the parable as follows, “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear” (Matthew 13:3-9).
I remember when I was a kid and I would hear this parable, I would always think of myself as the rich soil. Growing up on a farm, where every year we would do a vegetable garden, made it understandable that rich soil was the best. We never planted seeds in anything but rich soil. Even though this is true, there are so many more elements to having a fruitful harvest than just the rich soil.
First, when preparing the field, every year after plowing, there would be rocks that surfaced that would need to be taken out. Usually Dad would drag the field with a rake that would gather the rocks. Once the garden was ready, we would plant the seeds. But even then, the work was not done. At times, we needed to water the plants. We also would have to pull weeds, which somehow always came. Then there were the bugs. I remember having to go down the potato rows with a bucket pulling off all those squishy potato bugs that would destroy the plants otherwise. I remember the tomatoes always had enemies chewing on them also — those big green tomato worms. I’m sure there are products that people use to deter these little critters, but we always had to go and pick them off by hand. Lastly, the most important element needed is the sun.
Almost every year, it seems we would weed the garden once, which would keep things out for a short time, but then they always came roaring back. By the end of the summer, our gardens always looked more like a bunch of weeds from a distance. We certainly were always able to reap a harvest, but I think if we had been more diligent the harvest would have been greater.
In the Gospel, Jesus’ disciples ask him about the parable and He explains it to them by saying “Hear then the parable of the sower. The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”
Like I said, it was obvious to me that I wanted to be the good soil, and I always thought that I was because I grew up knowing my bible stories, going to church every week, going to Catholic schools etc. What I didn’t consider was work that needed to be done to cultivate the soil to make it and keep it rich and able to produce abundant harvests. There is constant work that needs to be done. The farm taught me that I cannot just plant the seed, then go off and leave the garden until the fall and expect much fruit. Sure there will be some produce, but if you want an abundant harvest, the care, the presence, the attention has to be constant.
The same is true for the cultivation of the heart. In order for the heart to be always ready to receive the seeds of the Word of God there is constant work to be done. It takes recognition of the areas of hardness or coldness in our hearts. It takes acceptance and responsibility for the weeds of sin that we allow to creep in and that we need to root out. It takes constant recourse to the Word of God and to the graces offered in the Sacraments for the watering, the fertilizing and the giving of nutrients to the soul. It takes focused practice, and we must do our best to live out the Word of God in love.
It takes humility and daily prayer, which helps us to recognize our absolute dependence on the grace and gifts of God. Cultivating the heart is something that we have to be intentional about and consistently seeking. The reason for this is evident once we experience the fruit. We realize that we were made for greatness, we were made for Divine Life, and that the work needed is well worth the effort, because our fruitfulness leads to our fulfillment.