There used to be an amusing TV commercial for Chiffon margarine; Mother Nature was fooled by the sweet taste of the creamy spread and she mistook it for butter. At the end she thunders, "It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!"
In some ways we’re always trying to outwit the natural world. The controversies of global warming, technical and scientific achievements, as well as the morality of some pharmaceuticals, stem cell research, or other medical protocol – all point us toward this dynamic tension.
Today’s readings remind us that all of nature mirrors God and God’s marvelous concern for creation. Nature is also used to teach us about our response to God’s Word. The parable of the sower and the seed begins the third great discourse that St. Matthew gives to Jesus in his Gospel. The core message is that the seed is nothing unless it lands in the right spot. A seed might be crushed underfoot, burnt up by the sun, or eaten by birds, but some might also nestle securely in rich, black humus that cradles it into greater life.
God plants his Word in each of our hearts with the hope that it sets down good, deep roots and matures and develops. But "It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!" The fact is we’re hard-wired for relationship. God has planted within each of us a deep desire – what spiritual write Fr. Ron Rolheiser calls "A Holy Longing" – for intimacy with God and others. And God plants his Word in us to draw us outside of ourselves, out of our homes, our churches, our politics… and into our world.
The pages of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are filled with anecdotes of those who heard Jesus’ Word, but it simply fell on their hardened hearts (like some Pharisees) and died. Or they welcomed Jesus for a bit, and then got scared or insecure (like Peter sinking or the rich young man walking away sadly) and the Word got choked or burned up. But there are also those who welcomed the Word with delight (like Zacchaeus, the crooked little tax collector, or Bartimaeus, the shouting blind man who followed Jesus up the road).
In his final broadcast in 1993, newscaster John Chancellor said that the change that worried him most in our society was the isolation of so many Americans that has been brought about by television and computers. Perhaps today might be a time to allow God’s Word to be planted within me. Maybe I’ll telephone a friend who’s been blue, or drop a note of encouragement to someone who needs to hear of God’s unconditional love.
Fr. Jack Conley, C.P. is pastor of St. Agnes Parish, Louisville, KY