Sexagesima Sunday - Fruit of God’s Word in Us
By Rev. G. Lee, C.S.SP.
My brethren, our Lord’s Divinity shines out in His teaching. When we listen to words of His in the Gospel, we never can doubt who is speaking. That people should hear Him at all and not prostrate themselves to adore Him, is a sad wonder. Certainly, no mere man ever spoke as He speaks. If His parables can be surpassed, it is by His explanation of them. His wisdom being as unlimited as truth, He always teaches as One having authority – the authority of God. And the simple majesty of His doctrine is graced by familiarity, enriched by fullness, rendered persuasive by Divine adaptability. He made us and all things; hence can He fittingly inform us how we stand related as well to Him and heaven as to our fellow-creatures and our earthly surroundings.
To-day’s Gospel abounds in natural truth and beauty. It also brings within our reach the widest and the highest realities of revelation. In its dozen verses there is instruction for all the children of men, needed, acceptable, compelling instruction. The very “mystery of the Kingdom of God” is here imparted. To be God’s garden is the meaning of our life. “You are God’s husbandry” is the inspired declaration. To take God’s seed and return Him fruit, is the method of our salvation. Who does not know what seed is, and what its expected fruit? Seed-time and sowing, laboring and waiting, harvesting and rejoicing, are all things of commonest interest and commonest experience. So, in our Lord’s parable of His word being the seed which He casts upon our earth, and which we either cultivate or render fruitless, He speaks in plain directness to the minds and hearts of all His followers. They have but to listen attentively and prepare to show that His sowing in them was not in vain.
In dwelling some moments on the beautiful parable, we may, my brethren, concentrate our thoughts particularly on two points: on the greatness of the Divine seed; on the smallness of the human fruit.
A – First, that the word of God is great and greatly precious, every believer admits unhesitatingly. We all extol it, even adore it; for in many ways God’s word is identified with God Himself. Of course, the Word is the name of one of the Divine Persons; and in Him are all things made by God, most especially His revelation of Himself. By His Word, who also is made Flesh, He utters Himself both in eternity and in time. But here there is question of the things that the Spirit of God has said to us in our language, has put explicitly into human words for our most heavenly enlightenment; and such things are necessarily of inestimable worth and sacredness.
This word of God is gratuitously vouchsafed to men without their having claim or right to it. Having got natural sense and reason, we might be left to work out our proper way. Our Creator’s calling to us, as a Father to his children, directing, warning, encouraging, approving, is purely gratuitous kindness. But we have grown so accustomed to this Divine condescension, since Jehovah’s walking with our first parents in Eden, that the immense favor is taken as a matter of curse. Only when misery makes the want of guidance and comfort particularly felt, do human beings appreciate their privilege of being all taught of God. His word was willingly qualified as precious, because rare, in the dark days of Samuel’s childhood. When, in like circumstances, the neglected Book of the Law was read before the zealous King Josiah, startled reverence took hold on him and his people. In later laments that bread was not taken to the children, the prophet’s plaint bore on hindrances to Divine instruction, on the fact that the little ones of God were not told what He had spoken for them.
Many of the Lord’s envoys had been splendid heralds of His word. But when He so loved the world as to send His own son, then were we enriched with the saving fullness of His revelation. Every man coming into the world is now enlightened, and nothing is kept back from us in any necessary knowledge. Truly happy are we, the promised Israel, to whom are indeed made known the things that are pleasing to our God.
In this precious Divine word, my brethren, you must recognize the characteristics of God’s works, of God’s ways. They are plainly perceptible in it; for it is always strong and sweet. The fortiter et suaviter of the Creator’s dealings with the creatures whom He so greatly respects, is strikingly manifest in His way of speaking to them. His word shows itself equally powerful and soothing. It can be “more piercing than any two-edged sword”; it can reach “unto the division of the soul and the spirit, of the joints also and the marrow.” Yet it can be as the dew of heaven in gentlest refreshment, in softly slaking and tenderly restoring.
The form in which it is brought before us by to-day’s Gospel is a small thing, but still “living and effectual”; as seed that takes hold on our ground, draws its appointed nourishment and flourishes.
Notice well, my brethren, what a Master He is that teaches! The free see-corn and the gifts of grace are equally in the grasp of His wisdom; all their qualities and circumstances are struck off by His picturing sentences. The lavish sowing, the trodden wayside, the devouring birds; the rock, with its withering drought; the thorns, with their choking thickness; the good ground, with its hundredfold return – all give us the realities of truth and knowledge. The seeing into the lying-in-wait of the malignant demons, into the superficiality, fickleness, worldliness of many men, and the patient good heartedness of a few, can be only of Him to whom “all things are naked and open,” in whose sight “no creature is invisible.”
He is the beginning, who even speaks with us, and His word, in itself, is still creative. It carries with it the might of the Father, the wisdom of the Son, the love of the Holy Ghost. Nevertheless, in our fearful liberty and more fearful malice, it can by us be resisted and rejected. Inanimate and irrational creatures all instantly respond to Divine intimations. Whether in the heaven above or the deep below, they flash to their Creator’s call their ready “here we are.” With man it is different. Sacredly great and beautiful though the revealed Word is, the richest in promise of human salvation, the Author of it knows that it may fall on unheeding ears. Hence, is He brought, in to-day’s life-giving lesson, to crying aloud and saying: “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
True servants of God have always evinced a jealous esteem for the word of God. The Church of the Old Law and of the New has clung to its every syllable, cherishing it as a most heavenly treasure. Historically, a glorious testimony to its worth was borne by the heroic Machabees. Hard pressed by neighboring states, they were renewing treaties with some of the better pagan nations. To the public stipulations with Sparta, they took care to add the noble words; “Though we needed none of these things, having for our comfort the holy books that are in our hands” (1. Mac. xii,9). Here was a sentiment truly worthy of believers. More to them than all human amities and alliances was their possession and use of the revealed word of God.
B – Following the consideration of the greatness of the Divine word, there is incumbent on us, my brethren, some consideration of the littleness of its human fruit. An appalling fact it is that the Lord’s speaking to His creatures should often prove useless. When in common, human, relations it is found useless to speak to those concerned, the case is declared desperate. Among disagreeing friends that is the final rupture. Parents give up children, children give up parents, if, respectively, they will not be listened to. Useless to speak to him – useless to speak to her – that’s the end of the matter. How dreadful the fate of many, were our Father in heaven to deal with us as we deal with one another. But though “He is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy,” we have still to remember that His terrible judgments are denounced against those who profit nothing by His precious word. Threatening, He said: “I will number you in the sword, and you shall all fall by slaughter; because I called and you did not answer, I spoke and you did not hear” (Is. 1xv, 12).
Scanned closely, the lesson of to-day’s gentle Gospel grows strongly alarming. Four classes of people are presented; only one passes the test. What should increase the alarm is the likelihood of only Christians being in question – or at least persons to whom the word has been preached. The wayside class, with their soul an animal thorough, were not looking for Divine truth. Their trodden earth did not even hide the dropping seed, and so the crow-like demons were easily able to snatch it away. This class is large, as virtual unbelief makes sadly evident. And let the world take notice that not believing is the guaranteed way to be lost: “Then the devil cometh, and taketh the word out of their heart, lest believing they should be saved.”
The shallow class, selfishly stony, is no small one either. To be quick to profess a belief, but quick also to abandon the corresponding practice, is a common inconsistency. The Catholic industry of nourishing saving faith with the good works by which we are to be judged, demands character deep enough to retain the waters of Divine grace. But the steady gaining and conserving of that grace is the very practice which the superficial and the fickle-minded are unwilling to maintain. Hence are lasting conversions comparatively rare.
Belief chocked by worldliness, the characteristic of the barren class, is a shocking phenomenon, shockingly general. “The cares and riches and pleasures of this life” – who, even of believers, is not more or less suffocated by them? And when they reach the degree, as the Lord strikingly puts it, of choking the soul, of covering its whole land with thorns, then no fruit is yielded.
Now the one approved class in the Gospel is that of the prepared heart and the enduring patience. The “good and perfect heart” is explicitly declared to be “the good ground” into which the Divine sower casts the good seed of the world; and what is then required for the hundredfold return is patient tilling, tilling like that of the industrious husbandman. The farmer or the gardener thinks it nothing extraordinary that he should labor in all diligence, waiting for the fruitful crop that is to be his sufficient recompense. “Behold,” says St. James, “the husbandman waits for the precious fruit of the earth, patiently bearing till he receives the early and later rain.” Should not Christians, as a body and as individuals, be similarly diligent and enduring in the spiritual industry? It was mainly of them that the prophet said: “For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causes her seed to shoot forth: so shall the Lord God make justice to spring forth, and praise before all the nations” (Is. lxi, II). The field of the Church is fertile, and need nowhere fall behind the productiveness of natural ground. Yet “the earth itself bringeth forth fruit, first the blade, then the ear, afterwards the full corn in the ear.”
How many of us, dear brethren, even in the Lord’s cherished garden of the Church, can show a similar order of growth, with the full-ear return at every season’s end? The reproach of culpable barrenness is too often our desert, and it is a severely insistent one. As it is justice that urges it, it will not be put off. Concerning Catholics whose lives give nothing to God, the angels may well be saying: “Lord, didst thou not sow good seed in They field?” And of every member of His son’s mystical body, the Eternal Father can answer: “It was panted in a good ground upon many water, that it might bring forth branches and bear fruit, that it might become a large vine.” To the soul that has been fruitless, but is now willing to listen, there may also come the Divinely loving complaint: “I planted thee a chosen vineyard, all rue seed: how then art thou turned unto Me into that which is good for nothing, O strange vineyard?”
This strangeness of an unproductive Catholic life should, dear brethren, particularly impress us. It is unnatural, wrong. So much done for us – and no corresponding return! Not to every nation did He so – a fact of which He explicitly reminds us; He adds, too, that the wickedest and apparently most hopeless kinds of people would, with our knowledge of His word, have done much better than we do. In this is there not an evident warning that our iniquitous obstinacy may finally reach the hopelessness that is indeed without remedy?
“The earth that drinketh in the rain which cometh often upon it and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is tilled, receives blessing from God. But that which bringeth forth thorns and briars is reprobate, and very near unto a curse, whose end is to be burnt” (Heb vi, 7). Here, plainly, is the distinction between the fruitful and the unfruitful Christian life. Here also is the anticipated sentence: a blessing or a curse, according to the season’s showing.
The earthly agriculturist is most matter-of-fact in computing outlay and return. “Tis his business to do so. Should his labor and expense exceed the crop’s value, he has no hesitancy about condemning and abandoning the enterprise. Less still of course would he think of delaying, should there be found no crop at all. Did other circumstances suggest it, he might, like the vinedresser with the cumbering tree, make a second or a third trial; but a fully ascertained barrenness is its own final condemnation. The “end is to e burnt.” And note well, my brethren, that in to-day’s parable, there is no question of trying again. There is one sowing and one gathering, like the passing life inevitably followed by the lasting judgment. Each scattering of the good seed calls for its proportionate richness of fruit: if there be default, a reckoning is inevitable. The kind but just Teacher seems to like the figure, it is so simply true and equitable. He elsewhere settles the whole question of our time and our eternity by stating that He lets the partly vitiated crop increase to the harvest fullness, and then commissions His angel-reapers to bundle and burn the worthless growths, but to carry the good grain home to His everlasting garners.
And though there be not a like literal declaration of the last judgment at the close of to-day’s parable, we must lie under no misapprehension of its implied drift. The sanction is there, in substance quite explicit. For are we not to be judged by our works, every man to have his award in strict proportion to his works, even as they weigh in the unerring balance? And where are the works, if there be no fruit? Only fruits of holy living can count with God. Or does anyone suppose that the Lord’s reckoning is ended by His merely stating that three kinds of ground – that is human souls – bore no fruit? No, no, my brethren: the Divine utterance is never inconclusive.
Mark, too, for this and other Gospel parables, that the Lord who as Teacher so graciously proposes them while there is time for s to learn, is the same who shall as Judge apply them when our day of probation is past. No words of His can pass; all, to the letter, must have their adequate fulfillment. Less, if possible, could a parable pass when He builds it into a type of His future adjudications.
Conclude, my dear brethren, to aim at making your Catholic lives meritoriously fruitful. Anything less than the “much fruit” of the Lord’s efficacious petition to His Father is unworthy of His disciples. His word, as He said, cleanses them; His Father purges and prunes them; that they may bear much fruit, fruit that will prove lasting. As Catholics we have great need of remembering that we all are of “those who have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come.” Any falling away on our part is of fearful consequence, and could be without recovery. There is on us an urgency that we may call Divine, to show ourselves fruitful, lest we occasion such waste and ruin as words cannot convey.
Of us, the chosen seedlings of His garden, God was evidently speaking when He said: “I will be as the dew, Israel shall spring as the lily” (Is. xiv, 6). God Himself the dew, to make our lives fruitful! Such He may well be, since He is the food on which we are to live and to grow. And never forget, my brethren, the close relation that has to exist between profiting of God’s word and partaking of His body. The sentiments of the Imitation should be ours, making us feel deeply and practically that “the two tables, set on the one side and on the other in the storehouse of the holy Church, are necessary to us, the table, namely “of the holy Altar” and the table “of the Divine law.” Thanksgiving for the Eucharistic table is probably our pious custom. Let us also show practical gratitude for the Gospel teaching, the seed so Divinely ministered to us, saying often and in simplest sincerity: “Thanks be to Thee, Lord Jesus, light of eternal light, for the table of holy doctrine which Thou hast afforded us by the ministry of Thy servants, the prophets and apostles and other teachers.” Amen.