Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time • Year A

George F. Riley, O.S.A.

Is 55:10-11
Ps 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14
Rom 8:18-23
Mt 13:1-23

A farmer owned a mule that was very important to him because it was a good plowing animal. The mule got sick one day and the farmer called in a veterinarian. The vet looked the mule overt then gave the farmer some extremely large pills. “Give the mule one of these pills three times a day and he’ll be fine,” said the vet. “How do I get those big pills down the mule’s throat?” asked the farmer. “Easy,” replied the vet. “Find a piece of pipe with a bore large enough to fit the pill into, then put one end of the pipe inside the mule’s mouth, put the pill in the pipe, and blow in the other end. Before he knows what’s happening, he’ll swallow the pill.” It seemed like a good idea, but in a few hours the farmer presented himself at the vet’s office looking terribly grey and queasy himself. “You look awful, what the heck happened?” asked the vet. The farmer replied, “The mule blew first!”

Today’s gospel makes all of us feel like a mule in one way or another. Things seem to be going well for us, then one of those mules blows first. Many of us have had to swallow some large and bitter pills, and re-evaluate the entire agenda of our lives. In the midst of it all each new decision about who we are and what we ought to do is a new decision whether to say “Yes” or “No” to Christ. Yes or no to the simplicity of Christ’s parable in today’s gospel, which was as clear as the noonday sun to His audience.

Israel is a land of mixed fertility. In the north, in Galilee, its farms are rich and its vines are productive. But in the south, much of its soil is rocky and bramble-infested. Today’s parable speaks about both. What was true of Israel two-thousand-years ago is true of us today. Let us briefly examine our souls and the kind of soil they provide for the seed of the gospel.

1. Is your soul the hard surface of the roadside where the gospel will receive no hospitable welcome? A soul wrapped up in self-adoration, self-pity, and self-concern? A soul so hardened by cynical pride that it questions all authority, even God’s word? Such a soul will not bow before God, will not die with Christ, and so can have no share in his resurrection.

2. Perhaps your soul is like a rock covered with just a little soil which has received the word but has no moisture to nourish it. Such a person is usually the “good time Charlie” who is all talk but no work, like the United Nations. He likes the words of the gospel and even accepts them provided it entails no hardship, much less makes him uncomfortable. But when hardship and sweat are called for this soul has no depth and the superficial shallow faith withers and dies, for it lacks the essence of Christianity which is sacrifice and faith.

3. The seed among thorns are the souls too occupied in pursuing wealth and fame that they haven’t got time to be bothered by the things of the future life. These are what I call “Christmas tree Catholics,” because like the Christmas tree they are big for glamor, for the razzle-dazzle, for being the center of attraction. But the Christmas tree doesn’t do anything. It just stands there. It doesn’t give anything but it expects you to lay presents at its feet. And since it’s a big tree that doesn’t have roots, a little push and over it goes. How quickly it is forgotten.

4. The good soil is the soul which accepts Christ’s commands and humbly takes up the cross. These are the “Apple tree Catholics” who, 1ike the apple tree, stand quietly and are always giving. The apple tree gives beauty in the spring for poet and painter, shade in the summer for the traveler, and fruit in the fall for everyone. It is a strong tree that will bend, shudder, and groan during a storm, but since its roots are grow wide and strong, it does not fall, and it is always growing.

My friends, despite the trials, trauma, temptations, troubles and tribulations of our sensual and split-personality society, you are the good soil, the apple tree Catholics.

You are the wheat that has been sown.

You are the leaven of Christ’s society of saints.

You are the salt of the earth.

You are the vine planted and tended by the vinedresser.

You are the tiny grain of mustard seed.

You are the fig tree that must bear fruit or you will be cursed.

This is the doctrine of “growthmanship,” so that you will grow – not in loneliness, restlessness and selfishness, but in wisdom, age and grace before God and man. And that is why the man who hates his 1ife in this world, preserves his life in the world to come.