Biblical Agriculture 101
Today's Gospel contains the Parable of the Sower. The parable and its explanation are really interesting if you have a little background on ancient farming practices. In Jesus' time fields were harvested in June and then left barren during the hot, dry summer. By the Fall the ground was quite hard. However, the farmers knew that the rain would be coming soon, so in the Fall the farmers would plant the crop for the next year's harvest. Most of our Florida vegetable farmers do the same thing--plant in the Fall to harvest in the Spring. Anyway, the ancient farmer did not plant like the modern farmer plants. The modern farmer plants in three steps: he ploughs, then sows seed, then covers the seed over. The ancient farmer planted in two steps. Farming began with a sower who went through the fields scattering seed. He was followed by a ploughman who would plough the seed under. That's why the seed that fell on the footpaths was useless. The ploughman wasn't about to plough the footpaths under. The seed that fell on rocks couldn't develop strong enough roots to survive. As far as the thorns were concerned, the Near East has world class thistles. Thistle plants grow over six feet tall. The only seed that had a chance of surviving would be that which fell on good soil. Therefore the simple meaning of the parable is "Be Good Soil."
I want to build on this thought by considering the soil. Good soil receives help. The farmer fertilizes it, makes sure it receives nutrients that will help the seed grow, and of course, he waters the soil.
God is the farmer. We are the soil. But God doesn't just sow the seed, his Word, and leave us expecting us to nurture the seed ourselves. He nurtures us. He waters us. He gives us the capacity to be the very best soil.
This is important because we often are down on ourselves, claiming that we cannot be the best Christians. Parents will often balk at the thought that they must be the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith because they fear that situations in their past renders them incapable of conveying the faith. People might receive a call from our religious education director asking them to teach and might respond that they don't feel they are good enough. People might receive a call from the co-ordinator of a parish ministry asking them to be lectors, Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, etc, and might feel that if the parish knew about certain things in their past they would never have been asked. These negative thoughts which all of us harbor to various degrees ignore the fact that if God calls us to a ministry, if he calls us to be the soil where he wants to sow his Word, he will then give us the ability to complete the ministry.
I am convinced that it is part of the human psyche to cherish guilt. Perhaps, a person was not his or her best as a young man or woman. He or she made some tragic errors. But time went on and that person responded to God's call to come home. The call may have come through a graced moment like marriage, the birth of a child, or even the child's First Communion. Or the call may have come when the person just felt that he or she began to miss the most positive aspect of their childhood, their union with God. The person eventually received the courage to approach the sacrament of reconciliation, penance. At that point, God has forgave everything.
But the person hasn't forgiven himself or herself. The person's self image is that of the sinner. But that is who that person was, not who that person is. If God sows his seed among us, calls us to be good soil, then we have to accept his caring for the soil. We have to accept his forgiveness. Is there anyone who thinks that God made a mistake in giving them children? I certainly hope not. If God gives children, he does this because he knows we can cultivate them to bring his presence to the world. We are all God's instruments. We can be good soil because God prepares us to be good soil. We do not have the right to allow ourselves to be bogged down by the memory of sins forgiven by God. He has forgiven us. We have to forgive ourselves.
So let's do our best to get rid of the negative thoughts we have about ourselves. We are not alone. The Lord is with us. He writes straight with the crooked lines of our lives.
We can be good soil as long as we trust God allowing him to prepare us to give growth to his Word.