Jul. 11, 2020

FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2020

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF OUR FAITH IS TO BEAR FRUIT

Readings: 1st- Is. 55:10-11; 2nd- Rom. 8:18-23; Gospel- Matt. 13:1-23

There are parallels in the first reading and the gospel of today: the sower, the seed, the land on which the seed is sown, and the word. The challenge is that believers bear fruits of faith. The prophet Isaiah uses a familiar experience of the created order to explain God’s dynamic presence to his audience. The snow falls and melts. The rains fall from the sky. The parched desert wilderness around them burst into bloom in the spring, all communicating God’s fidelity to the covenant. Thus, the prophet reassures them that no matter how dry, tough, hopeless, and arid the situation, God is at work in them and fulfills his promises. 

In the gospel, Jesus takes up the metaphor of the seed in the parable of the sower. Matthew sets it up in three phases: 1. Jesus tells the parable (Matt. 13:1-9); 2. Jesus explains why he teaches in the parable (Matt. 13:10-17); 3. Jesus interprets the parable (Matt. 13:18-23). Here, there are categories of seed sown by the sower: the seed that fell on the path, consumed by birds; the seed that fell on rocky ground with little soil, scorched by the sun and withered for lack of roots; the seed that fell among thorns, choked and crushed; then the seed that fell on rich soil and produced different volumes of fruit. 

Between the pronouncement of the parable and its explanation, the disciples of Jesus shudder at his use of parables to the large crowds. His answer is, “Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them, it has not been granted.” And why? He recounts Isaiah’s prophecy, “Gross is the heart of this people.” If we remember the gospel of last Sunday, it is clear that these people do not get the message of the gospel because their heart is gross. As Jesus exclaims, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to little ones” (Matt. 11:25). The people’s heart has become impermeable, impenetrable, sluggish, and resistant, gross by sin. Earthly worries, anxieties, and desires for material things make it reject Jesus. He speaks to them in parable because they are not open to his message. 

However, Jesus commends those who hear this word and describes them as “Blessed.” The blessed are the little ones to whom the Father has been pleased to reveal himself. Their eyes are blessed because they see Christ. Their ears are blessed because they hear the gospel. They are more privileged than the righteous people and the prophets who really longed to see and hear Christ directly but could not. This demonstrates our Eucharistic and sacramental life. Aren’t we privileged to touch Christ? Aren’t we privileged to encounter him? Aren’t we privileged to hear the great words of absolution in the confessional, “I absolve you from all your sins…, Go in peace”? Aren’t we so fortunate to eat of the body and drink of the precious blood of Christ? We are truly blessed, the seed that is sown on Eucharistic soil. Christ explains the parable by making us understand the difference between the seeds that fell along the path, on rocky ground, among thorns and the ones that fell on good soil. (Matt. 13:20-23).

During the COVID lockdown, my friend experienced a huge crisis of faith. She felt bad about the Church’s handling of the situation. Like many of us, she expected that the Church could have done things differently, perhaps not shut the doors completely to believers who needed the sacraments during the trying moments. My friend felt disappointed, a bit lost as she searched strongly for answers. Thankfully, she didn’t shut herself out from those who could help solve the difficult questions that she struggled with. It was for her a moment of persecution seeing the worries, mess, and madness in the world. She felt like thorns poking her flesh. Her heart was troubled. But she emerged stronger after all because she knew the inner peace of Christ. Her faith was sown on fertile soil. 

As seed sown by the sower, the question is, within your heart, where do your seeds fall? What struggles have you gone through, especially within the past few months of socio-political, psychological, and spiritual turbulence? What impact has the COVID 19 situation left on your soul? Do you feel like your faith has been snatched away (did you fall on the path)? Has the COVID situation made you slack? Has it become an excuse to miss Mass? Are you unable to see the need to pray as before? Is your love for Christ waning (have you fallen on rocky ground)? Have you become so anxious and worrisome? Is your business impacted? Your bills affected? Your children’s educational career uncertain? Does your employment hang in the balance? Has the COVID-19 crushed your faith?

Faith must be tested to grow. It doesn’t grow in easy times but in hard times. All of the saints grew when they were tested. Where are you in these difficult, faith-testing times? Have you asked yourself that question? Not physically, but in your heart, in your soul. Where are you? We can all agree that times have gotten difficult and darker but we are called to be the light of Christ in the darkness. Children of light who should preach the faith by how we live our lives. Our faith, our light should be shining for others to see, it should be a comfort to others. 

We are called now, more than ever, to be the seed sown on rich soil, who bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Why? Because we know how the story ends. We know that the light of Christ will triumph. So the question remains, are you bearing fruit? Jesus wants you to bear fruits, it does not matter how much -hundred or sixty or thirtyfold- it doesn’t matter. He wants you to just reach out. Some people might feed those in Haiti, others might feed those in Africa, others might feed those in Mexico, it doesn’t matter. You might reach out to the elderly in your neighborhood, or feed the homeless on the streets or even pay the electric bill for your neighbor who’s struggling. Just bear fruits of faith, that’s all Jesus wants. 

My dear friends, Christ wants us to clean up, put on our shoes, and get back on our feet. Get back to him, the war is not over. The trials and tribulations are not over, so don’t let yourself be snatched away by the tempter. Don’t allow the thorns to suffocate you or the sun to make you wither. God is still in the fray. He counts you among the privileged. You must encounter him in prayers, in the Eucharist, in the sacraments, and in other human beings in need especially now. The reality of prophet Isaiah’s promise remains, “my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” Our faith must bear fruits.