Matthew 13:1-23 or 13:1-9
There are two aspects of seed-growing highlighted in today’s readings. One aspect is my responsibility to plant and nurture seeds of faith in the world. The other is my responsibility to be a fertile field so God can plant and grow in me. I don’t know which is harder.
I do know over which I exert the most control – I can only change myself. I need to be vigilant about the distractions, tribulations, anxieties, and shallowness that can prevent God’s word from taking root. I constantly need to examine my motivations, actions, and desires, weeding out that which is not of God and maintaining a fertile seedbed so God can help me grow into the rich and fruitful person I was created to be. This requires discernment, input from persons wiser than myself, and constant prayer – all things that I can choose to employ.
Planting and nurturing seeds in others is more frustrating because I am not in control. I can teach a semester class, counsel a student or a grieving person, lead a training session, write articles and books, and use the gifts God has given me to spread the reign of God. Yet the end result is unknown, and if I am focused on the "success" of my efforts I will burn out with discouragement.
Instead, I have to let go of controlling the outcome or becoming too attached to the desire to succeed. The truth is that sometimes I simply till the soil, or take out some rocks, or add a little fertilizer, hoping the process will be continued by others. Sometimes the seeds were planted long ago, and my task is to prune, water, or nurture. Sometimes all I can do is create the idea that it might be possible to plant in this soil. In every situation, I have to do what I can and then let go and turn it over to God, trusting that the harvest will come in God’s time, not mine.
Bishop Ken Untener wrote a beautiful piece (sometimes wrongly attributed to Oscar Romero) that reinforces this idea. He said:
"We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work…This is what we are about: We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own."
Jesus said that prophets and righteous people longed to see what we see and hear what we hear, but they did not. We stand on the shoulders of all those who have gone before us, those who diligently plowed the land and prepared the way for what was to follow even though they were not able to see it themselves. Truly we are part of a bigger picture. I am too small-minded when I want to be in control, when I want to see the results of my efforts, and especially when my desire is to be rewarded for producing the fruit. I need to let go and be a prophet of a future not my own. I am not in control and may never see the end result, yet hopefully I can indeed do my tiny part, that God’s harvest may be full.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.