“As the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, so the word that goes forth from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.”
The Prophet Isaiah described the salvation that was to be achieved in Jesus Christ with overwhelming confidence. The beauty of his imagery is deeply reassuring. We, like the dry earth, can achieve nothing of ourselves. The grace of God, like the rain and snow watering the desert, summons us to new and abundant life. We are not trapped in a dryness of spirit that will never end. The way to life lies not in ourselves, but in a gracious God whose ways cannot be frustrated. We, no less than the earth, shall bear fruit, fruit that will last.
The parable of the sower and the seed begins from the same confident assertion. We are not a barren land whose lives can yield nothing. The precious seed of God’s Word, the presence of his Son, is already sown within us. It has the potential for a rich harvest. Whatever our state of life, however unproductive we feel, let us never doubt that the seed of God’s goodness is already sown within us. This, surely, is the first and most important encouragement at the heart of this familiar parable. We carry within our hearts the seed of God’s presence. Like the rain and the snow falling on the earth, it does not return empty to God.
The unfolding of the parable describes our response to God’s gracious choice. The seed of his presence has been sown. By the response of our lives we choose the ground that we shall become.
We become the stony ground at the edge of the field when we refuse any space in our lives to the presence of God. Without prayer we become the shallow soil that rejoices in God, but has no depth to sustain and nurture his presence within us. When we allow distraction and preoccupation to overwhelm the presence of God, we become the ground that is choked by weeds, that can never reach beyond its own concerns. The rich soil is the life that surrenders itself to the presence of God, allowing that seed to bear a rich harvest.
The truth is, of course, that we, like a field, are constantly evolving. It is for us, through the vigilance of prayer, to identify the stones and weeds that block out God’s presence. When repentance prepares the ground, we can have no doubt that the seed of God’s grace will yield a hundredfold.
St Paul expressed the fundamental confidence of this parable in different language. Like the whole of creation, we are eagerly waiting for the presence of God’s Son to be revealed in us. We are only too aware of everything that stands in the way, what Paul describes as the enslavement of sin. Like the field that has been prepared for a rich harvest, the Lord has freed us from the power of sin. The seed has been sown within us, already we are the children of God. Our lives are one great act of giving birth to the presence of God in our world.