Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Seed That Is The Word Of God; When The Seed Falls On Rich Soul, It Bears Much Fruit

Saturday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
1 Corinthians 15:35-37, 42-49
Brothers and sisters:
Someone may say, "How are the dead raised?
With what kind of body will they come back?"

You fool!
What you sow is not brought to life unless it dies.
And what you sow is not the body that is to be
but a bare kernel of wheat, perhaps, or of some other kind.

So also is the resurrection of the dead.
It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible.
It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious.
It is sown weak; it is raised powerful.
It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one.

So, too, it is written,
"The first man, Adam, became a living being,"
the last Adam a life-giving spirit.
But the spiritual was not first;
rather the natural and then the spiritual.
The first man was from the earth, earthly;
the second man, from heaven.
As was the earthly one, so also are the earthly,
and as is the heavenly one, so also are the heavenly.
Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one,
we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.
Paul has been affirming the centrality of rising from the dead as part of our Christian faith. But then he puts the question: “But someone may say, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come back?’” It is a question any Christian - or non-Christian for that matter - could very well ask today.

In today’s final reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul tries to explain, by the use of images, what the resurrection of the body means.

Paul at first says this is really a silly question in the sense that it cannot be a question of a corpse suddenly coming back to life and somehow being transported into a heavenly world. (Any more than the resurrection of Christ is to be understood as the simple resuscitation of his dead body.)

He gives an example from plant life. You plant a seed in the ground and something totally different emerges. The original seed “dies”, so to speak, and gives birth to something altogether new. There is an extraordinary transformation and yet both share the same identity. Another dramatic example is the caterpillar which goes into a cocoon and emerges as something that looks entirely different - yet it is the same individual.

It is somewhat similar with resurrection from the dead, says Paul. A perishable, contemptible, and weak body dies and becomes transformed into something imperishable, glorious and powerful. “It is sown dishonourable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful”. Like the tiny vulnerable acorn that is transformed into a mighty oak.

The person born, says Paul, is originally an “embodied soul”. ‘Soul’ here refers to the source of life that animates the physical body. But the person who is raised after death is an “embodied spirit”, in the sense that now the person is filled with a new animating force, the very Spirit of God. It is the same person but radically changed.

The Jerusalem Bible explains Paul’s thinking in this way:

As it only gives natural life, psyche [soul] is less important than pneuma [spirit] by which a human life is divinised by a process that begins through the gift of the Spirit and is completed after death. Greek philosophers thought of the higher soul escaping from ‘the body’ to survive immortally. Christians thought of immortality more in terms of the restoration of the whole person, involving a resurrection of the body effected by the Spirit or divine principle which God withdrew from human beings because of sins, but restored to all who are united to the risen Christ, who is the ‘heavenly’ man and life-giving Spirit. The ‘body’ is no longer psychikon but pneumatikon, incorruptible, immortal, glorious, no longer subject to the laws of matter; it does not even answer the description of matter. Psyche can be used in a wider sense as the opposite of the body to indicate what it is in a human being that behaves and feels, or even to indicate the spiritual and immortal soul.

[So it is important to be aware in this passage that Paul is using the word ‘soul' here as the source of life in the earthly human body. It is not what we commonly understand as a God-inserted immortal soul but rather something common to all living things, plants, animals and humans.]

Paul continues his explanation of his distinction between the “natural” and the “spiritual” body by pointing to their two archetypes: the first Adam and Jesus, the second Adam.

The first human person, Adam, had a natural body of the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7) and through him a natural body is given to his descendants. Through the creative power of the Creator he became a “living soul”. That is, the dust of the earth became animated by a life-giving principle which he passed on to his descendants. But the “first man, being from the earth, is earthly by nature”.

The first Adam, who came from the dust of the earth, was given life. The second Adam is one who gives life. His is a “life-giving spirit” (cf. John 5:26). When he comes at the end of time, he will, through the power of his own death and resurrection, give his people a “spiritual”, that is, Spirit-filled body. This body is, as we said, imperishable, without corruption and capable of existing face to face with God. We are the same person but we exist in an altogether different way.

In life we are modelled on the “earthly” man, destined to death and to return to the dust of the earth. After death, we are modelled on the “heavenly” or “spiritual” man, sharing in the very life of Jesus, the Second Adam.

The resurrection of Jesus and our resurrection after death are central to our Christian faith. Without them, life loses all its meaning.

However, it is probably better for us not to speculate too much on the very nature of life after death. It is an area which naturally arouses a great deal of curiosity and we have reports of people who have had “near-death” experiences. These accounts are very encouraging but they say very little of the experience of being face to face with God in all his glory. “Eye has not seen nor ear heard,” says St Paul, what God has prepared for those who love him.

Let us leave it at that and look forward to that wonderful day by concentrating on spending each day on earth in the love and service of Jesus, who has gone before us and has all things ready for us in his Father’s house of “many mansions”.*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 56
I will walk in the presence of God,
in the light of the living.
Now I know that God is with me.
In God, in whose promise I glory,
in God I trust without fear;
what can flesh do against me?
I will walk in the presence of God,
in the light of the living.
I am bound, O God, by vows to you;
your thank offerings I will fulfill.
For you have rescued me from death,
my feet, too, from stumbling;
that I may walk before God in the light of the living.
I will walk in the presence of God,
in the light of the living.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Luke 8:4-15
When a large crowd gathered,
with people from one town after another
journeying to Jesus, he spoke in a parable.
"A sower went out to sow his seed.
And as he sowed, some seed fell
on the path and was trampled,
and the birds of the sky ate it up.
Some seed fell on rocky ground, and when it grew,
it withered for lack of moisture.
Some seed fell among thorns,
and the thorns grew with it and choked it.
And some seed fell on good soil, and when it grew,
it produced fruit a hundredfold."
After saying this, he called out,
"Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear."

Then his disciples asked him
what the meaning of this parable might be.
He answered,
"Knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God
has been granted to you;
but to the rest, they are made known through parables
so that they may look but not see,
 and hear but not understand.

"This is the meaning of the parable.
The seed is the word of God.
Those on the path are the ones who have heard,
but the Devil comes
and takes away the word from their hearts
that they may not believe and be saved.
Those on rocky ground are the ones who,
when they hear, receive the word with joy,
but they have no root;
they believe only for a time
and fall away in time of temptation.
As for the seed that fell among thorns,
they are the ones who have heard,
but as they go along,
they are choked by the anxieties
 and riches and pleasures of life,
and they fail to produce mature fruit.
But as for the seed that fell on rich soil,
they are the ones who,
when they have heard the word,
embrace it with a generous and good heart,
and bear fruit through perseverance."
We saw yesterday that Jesus was going around preaching the Good News of the Kingdom, accompanied by his twelve chosen disciples and a number of women who supported the work. Jesus, we are told, is surrounded by people who have come from every nearby city. There is an intimation of universality, ‘catholicism’, about the message he is going to give.

We are given an example of some of the teaching that he was giving them. It takes the form of a parable, the well-known parable of the sower. As in Matthew’s version, the parable is told in two stages. The first is the parable itself. The emphasis is on the sower sowing. He scatters the seed all over - as Jesus is now doing with the people. Some of it falls on the path, some on rocks, some among brambles and some on good soil.

It describes a typical situation in Palestine at the time. The field was largely a public place, at least while it was fallow. So there were paths meandering across it where people took short cuts. The land was not very fertile so there were pieces of rock jutting out of the soil. In the fallow season, it was not looked after and wild plants like brambles grew up. Also, unlike other farming cultures, the sowing took place before the ploughing.

The central message is that, even though some of the seed that the sower plants will wither and die, there is some which will find fertile soil and flourish. So it is with the Word of God and the Word of Jesus. It is a message of confidence and hope for the future of the Kingdom. In the Gospel, it is Jesus’ disciples who are the fertile soil.

As he finished the parable Jesus called out to all, inviting them to hear. He did not mean that they just physically hear. They are meant to listen carefully, to assimilate fully and to implement effectively all that he says. He is the Sower, the seed is the Word, those spoken to are the soil.

Clear and all as it is, the disciples ask for an explanation of the parable. Jesus tells them that the inner secrets of the Kingdom are for them. Why this privilege? Because they are disciples, because they are followers, because they are ready to listen. The rest hear in parables and only in parables: seeing, they do not see; hearing, they do not understand. They do not really want to see or hear because, as the Gospel says elsewhere, if they were to see and understand, they would have to turn their lives around and they are not ready for that.

The disciples are those who have done just that; they have left their boats, their nets and their families, their security and gone with Jesus. That is what seeing and hearing means.

Then follows the explanation which really carries the original parable further than its simple message. In fact, it becomes more like an allegory where each part has a meaning of its own rather than the one point that a parable normally makes. And, whereas in the parable the emphasis was on the sower, here the emphasis is very much on the soil which receives the seed. Each example is made to represent a particular way in which the message is received or not.

The seed that falls on the path is like those who hear the word but it is snatched away from them before they have even a chance to respond. The overwhelming pagan world around them was just too strong an attraction.

The seed that falls on the rock where there may be some moisture in the crevices is like those who hear the word with great enthusiasm and joy (a favourite Lucan term). But they are not able to put down any long-lasting roots and, at the first hint of opposition or temptation, they fall away. They represent the many early Christians who must have given up under the pressures of persecution.

The seed that falls among the brambles represents those who do hear and accept the word. But, gradually the pressure of the secular world and its values is too much. They try to live in both worlds at once but are gradually choked up with concerns about money and material and social wants and the pursuit of pleasure. Eventually, the word dies in them. Many Christians today could identify with this group.

The seed that falls on good soil represents those who hear the word in all openness and accept it fully. The word takes root deep within them and overflows in all kinds of good works.

It is quite clear to which group we are called to belong. To which one, in fact, should I honestly identify myself?*

The Irish Jesuits

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

'And some seed fell on good soil, and when it grew, it produced fruit a hundredfold.'

The fruit produced will result in more seed. So the disciples and their followers can follow the sower and keep trying to sow on the less receptive soil - maybe one day the weeds and stones will have been cleared and the seed can grow.