July's Outdoor Mass
16 Jul 2017
“‘Let anyone with ears listen!’” (Matt. 13:9) In the name …
I think they’re called algorithms. I think they’re some of the science behind computer science. I may be wrong. But I am amazed at how attentive these massive, information laden systems are becoming. I mentioned last Sunday in church that we were going to be leaving on vacation and that the weather forecasts weren’t all that promising. Well, Sharon had been checking the forecast for Ogunquit quite regularly over the internet. She then received an unsolicited advertisement inviting us to the happy hour at a bar in Kennebunkport. I don’t think this was a lucky guess. I think one of those computer algorithms put together the fact that a person in Deerfield was checking frequently the weather in Ogunquit and concluded that she was checking in on a planned beach trip. The algorithm went another step forward. It saw that the forecast was not conducive to sitting on the beach. It then shared this specific information with an establishment in nearby Kennebunkport and without any human interference sent Sharon the invitation to their happy hour because they figured what else you gonna do on a rainy day at the beach. With millions and millions of bits of information being shared constantly by millions of users, I find it absolutely amazing that the computer algorithm can finetune itself down to the particular situation at a particular time of a particular user. This massive amount of information that is simultaneously individually attuned makes some of the things we say about God not seem so outlandish, such as all-knowing and yet still aware and devoted to each and every one of us.
This is surprisingly the original message behind Jesus’ famous parable of the sower and the seed. We use this same story every November when we celebrate Word of God Sunday, but when we do so in November we also read the interpretation of the parable. We’ve left that out today. Usually Jesus speaks the parables and then lets His hearers work through their meaning. That’s an essential gift of the parables. They invite us into the story. They continue to speak to us because their meaning is determined, at least in part, by how we interpret them. Stories have a remarkable way of getting us to think for ourselves rather than only listen to someone else’s answer. This is why some biblical scholars believe that the stand-alone parable of the sower that we read a couple of minutes ago was all that there was originally. Then, very early in the tradition, the interpretation was added onto the parable so that it became a parable about parables. But that’s a message for Word of God Sunday.
Today, instead, let’s try and imagine what Jesus’ stand-alone parable may mean. The clipart picture on the song sheet is a pretty accurate depiction of how an ancient farmer would go about his work. Individual seeds weren’t placed beneath the soil in neat rows; they were scattered by hand across the soil. Any farmer here, any gardener here, knows that exposed seeds have a tough lot ahead of them. Birds love them, and some of the seed are quickly eaten. Some are scattered on unsuitable ground. There’s nothing there that will help the seeds to develop. They sprout, but then wither. Still other seeds are blown into the thorns and everybody here knows that the plants you want to grow don’t have a chance against the weeds you don’t want to grow. So these poor seeds are choked by the weeds and produce nothing. Some seed, however, are lucky enough to land on good soil and they bring forth the harvest for the farmer.
We’re so used to hearing the interpretation of this parable that breaks it down into four separate messages about what the seed on the path, the seed on the rock, the seed among the thorns and the seed in good soil each means, that we have a hard time hearing this as a parable with only one lesson. But maybe Jesus is talking about perseverance. The farmer goes out to sow. The seed tries to grow. And yet they both meet defeat on the path, they both meet defeat on the rocks, they both meet defeat among the thorns. But the farmer and the seed don’t give up. They persevere. And finally, the seed falls onto good ground and a harvest is promised.
Everything is not going to succeed, maybe there’s even the discouraging message that most efforts will not succeed. But Jesus’ message is persevere. There’s an amazing Gatorade commercial on television now. It begins with the question, “You want to know the secret to victory?” Then it shows sports superstars who have failed, but who used that failure not as an excuse, but as the impetus to try even harder. The ad closes with the message: “Make defeat your fuel.” All those stories from basketball, football, tennis and baseball, they’re no different than Jesus’ story told about the sower and seed. “Never give up,” says Jesus. “Make defeat your fuel.”
So what if this were all that there was to the story of the sower and seed? Remember, the parables are supposed to bring us into the story. They’re used by Jesus to get us thinking. There must have been the religious message: keep working at your faith. Don’t settle for only producing thirty fold; go for the 60 or even the 100. Do the best you can. Or was the message more practical, more like that Gatorade commercial. The people Jesus was speaking to faced hurdles and obstacles every single day. They were a poor and defeated people. Maybe Jesus’ message was more about hope. Or maybe the message was about Jesus Himself, that Jesus will never give up on any of us. If we can create amazing algorithms to amass huge amounts of information that can still focus on any one person, then we can rest assured that Jesus has not overlooked any one of us even though He’s the Saviour of all of us, that even when things look like He may have forgotten to check in on us, that He will continue to walk with us always no matter how hard the path. Maybe all of this or some of this or something only you hear is all in this simple story. May we discover its message of perseverance in our own way so that we also never give up. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo