Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Parable of . . .the Spammer?

(15th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year A; This homily was given 10 July, 2005, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.)

A national study was done recently, which revealed that over 10,000 million pieces of junk mail are sent out each year. That’s enough for every man, woman and child to receive 160 each! And then there’s the email version of junk mail, which even has its own name: Spam. You come back from vacation to realize you have 234 new messages, and only about 5 of them from people that you actually know. “Direct marketing”, they call it; targeting large amounts of people to get at least a few of them to respond.

And so how surprising to discover, in this morning’s Gospel, that God Himself is a spammer! Jesus relates the parable of the sower, revealing the God who sows the seed that is actually His word. He sows this seed everywhere: On the path, on rocky ground, among thorns, and finally on rich soil where it will eventually bear fruit.

Why does God waste His time, and seemingly His word, by sowing it in places where it will not bear fruit? The answer has something to do with the nature of God Himself; He is a God who wants to reach us so much, wants to share His word with us so completely, that He simply sends it to us in every time and place. The miracle of grace is that, sometimes, we hear it.

“Whoever has ears,” Jesus says, “ought to hear” (Matthew 13:9). It takes a great deal of effort, in the world we live in, to hear that word. But that doesn’t keep God from sending it to us every day of our lives.

In one of her reflections on prayer, the great mystic St. Catherine of Siena describes God’s word to us as a fountain, bubbling over with fresh, life-giving water. In the city where she lived, there was a large fountain in the middle of the busy market square. During the day hundreds of people would be walking about that square, and amidst all of the busyness you could see the fountain but you certainly could not hear it.

But if you went there at night, long after all the people had retired to their homes, you could hear the water cascading from that fountain loud and clear. God’s word is a lot like that. We have to be still and quiet ourselves down, in order to hear it.

“Whoever has ears,” Jesus says, “ought to hear” (Matthew 13:9).

One of the greatest challenges that we face today is that we live in a world of many words and many distractions. From advertising, to pointless talk shows on radio and TV, and all of the other distractions of our lives; it can be difficult for us to distinguish God’s word and the importance of His message for our lives, from all the other words and messages that surround us. Yet in the midst of it all, God is sending out His word, trying to reach us and draw us close to Himself.

There is the story of a young teacher who was just beginning his career in a local elementary school. His first Christmas he was overwhelmed with joy at all the gifts he received from his students. Later that night he began to open them and discovered that there were three rectangular packages, identical in size, all wrapped in different colored paper. After opening all three, he found they were all the same thing: handkerchiefs.

After many more years, and many more Christmases, he no longer opened those small, rectangular boxes. He simply stacked them up in the closet and opened them when he needed a new handkerchief.

One winter, as he went to get a new box out for the season, he discovered that it wasn’t the typical cardboard box, but a box made of velvet. He opened that box and found not a set of handkerchiefs, but a gold watch. There was a note with the watch that said: “Merry Christmas and thank you for being the best teacher I’ve ever had.”

God’s word for us is that personal, it is that specific. We all come here, week after week, and listen to the same readings and Gospel passage together. But it will often mean something different for each one of us. For some it might be a word of encouragement, or a word of hope; for others, perhaps an invitation to change or see things in a whole new light. For each of us it is something different, but God’s word to us is as personal as that gold watch. Are we able to quiet ourselves down enough to hear it?

The great message of hope that we have as people of faith is that God never ceases to sow the seed that is His word. Long after we have given up and failed to listen, He keeps on speaking and sending out His word to encourage us, to lift us up when we have fallen, to bring us back into a deeper relationship with Himself.

As He tells us through the prophet Isaiah:

Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth . . . so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.
—Isaiah 55:10-11

We ask God this morning for the grace to cultivate the soil of our hearts, that we might be more receptive to hearing this word, more open to what God is saying to us at this time. And hearing that word, might we go forth from this place to produce much fruit, thirty, sixty and one hundred fold.