Sunday, July 13, 2014

Accomplish God's purpose

Readings: Is 55:10-11; Ps 65:10-14; Rom 8:18-23; Matt 13:1-23

God sows His word throughout the world. His word is not fruitless, but, in the words of Isaiah, God's word accomplishes His will, accomplishes "the end for which it is sent" (Is 55:11). Of course, Jesus Christ is God's Word. I have long cherished these words from Michael Card's song "The Final Word"- "He spoke the incarnation and then so was born the Son/His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one."

Just as not everyone understood the parables Jesus taught, not everyone grasps that Jesus is God's final, perfect Word, sent to accomplish the Father's will. Indeed, there is something quite mysterious about this.

What is perhaps most counter-intuitive of all is how Jesus Christ, as God's Word, accomplishes the purposes of the One who sent Him. St. Paul, in our second reading, taken from the most majestic of his writings, his Letter to the Romans, drawing from his own experiences as one in whom "the word of the kingdom" found rich soil, writes with a great deal of precision about just how God's Word accomplishes His work in us and through us.

Vincent Van Gogh, The Sower, 1889

If I were to assign one word to describe how God's word accomplishes His work in us and through us based on what St Paul wrote I would be tempted to use "suffering." But, with a bit of reflection, I'd have to go with "travail." Travail means painful or laborious effort. Why "travail" instead of "suffering"? Suffering, it seems to me, is far too passive. Suffering just happens. It has been observed, "to live is to suffer."

Travail implies that we take those circumstances that cause us to suffer, and, by the power of the Spirit, offer these to God, which is what it means to participate in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, something we were called to do when we were baptized into Christ's death and resurrection. This is what St Paul means a few chapters on in Romans where he wrote, "I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship" (Rom 12:1). This requires us to recognize that it is precisely through experience, through the circumstances we face every day, which recognition causes us to "groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption" (Rom 8:23), that God redeems our bodies, making us ever more fully His children. God redeems what we freely offer Him.

If we extend today's second reading two more verses, our understanding is enhanced: "For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance" (Rom 8:24-25). Sticking with today's metaphor of seeds growing into fruitful plants, we can quickly grasp that after we plant a seed a lot happens in the earth, that is, underground, before even the first sprout becomes visible above ground. So it is with God's word for those in whom He finds rich soil. The soil of our souls is made rich, is fertilized, by patience and perseverance, which is why the apostle wrote, "in hope we are saved."

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