Perhaps we should switch the first and second
readings this Sunday.
St. Paul (Romans 8:18-23) surfaces a problem
with which all people of faith must deal. But Isaiah (Isaiah 55:10-11) and
Jesus (Matthew 13:1-23) give the same basic answer to the problem, even
though they ministered more than 500 years apart.
Paul states the question: How do we know the
things we hope for in faith will eventually happen? He begins by making a
statement of faith: "I consider that the sufferings of this present
time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us."
As in labor
Paul employs the image of a woman in labor to
convey his point: "We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains
even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first
fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for
adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we are saved."
What's the basis of our hope? Isaiah and Jesus
zero in on the same answer: God's word.
Isaiah prophesied during the Chosen People's
darkest hour -- the Babylonian Exile. Between 586 and 530 BCE, a large
percentage of Jews were confined in Babylon, a safeguard to prevent any
revolt against their foreign conquerors. There was no hope for release, no
chance to return to the Promised Land.
Then this unexpected prophet came on the scene,
promising that their time of punishment was over. He encouraged them to pack
their bags and to get the road between Israel and Babylon in shape because
their hated exile was finished.
That sounded great, but how could the Jews be
certain this longed-for day was just around the corner? Isaiah had just one
answer: We've got Yahweh's word on it! If Yahweh says it, it happens, no
matter the obstacles.
That's where Sunday's reading comes in. The
prophet perfectly summarizes the force of that word: "Just as from the
heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have
watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, so shall my word be that
goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my
will, achieving the end for which I sent it."
Some seeds grow
In His parable about sowing seed, Jesus
completely agrees with Isaiah. Matthew leaves out the question that seems to
have prompted Jesus' famous parable. Most probably, someone came up and
asked Him why He was wasting His time doing all that preaching. In a month
or two, the person might have said, practically no one would remember
anything He said.
It's then that Jesus starts talking about all
the seed wasted in the broadcast technique farmers employed in His day. No
matter how much seed is wasted, some always falls "on rich soil and
produces fruit, a hundred, or sixty or thirty-fold." God's word, in
short, always has an effect.
Remember in the old days when we'd ask in our
religion classes, "At what point of a Sunday Eucharist does our coming
late switch from a venial to a mortal sin?" The answer: Only if we
walked in the door after the chalice was "uncovered" (after the
Offertory started) was it mortal; before then, it was just venial.
That meant we Catholics could miss the entire
liturgy of God's word throughout our lifetime and it would never be
seriously sinful. I presume Jesus and Isaiah would have a great problem with