Sunday, July 16, 2023

Treasures for Transformation

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Readings: Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 64 (65):10-14; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 13:1-9 or 23

Pictures: By chris robert & Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

My dear friends, what’s the difference between a resource and a treasure? We know that both are valuable in some way. But we see and treat them differently, don’t we? When it comes to resources, our concern is to exploit them. To extract as much value as we can from them. We see them merely as means to an end. But as for treasures, we cherish and care for them for their own sake. It’s sort of like how a guard dog on a farm is treated quite differently from a pet dog in a modern home. The first is there mostly to provide a service. The second is actually a cherished member of the family.

Resource versus treasure. It’s helpful to keep this distinction in mind as we ponder our scriptures today. Not least because we’re so familiar with the Parable of the Sower, that it’s easy to miss what the Spirit is really saying to us. The parable focuses our attention on the relationship between the seed of God’s Word and the soil of human hearts. In particular, it highlights the power of the seed to bear abundant fruit. Provided that it falls on soil that is receptive enough, the seed will bear fruit, incredibly, even as much as a hundredfold.

How do we feel when we hear this? I’m not sure. But perhaps to hearts conditioned by corporate culture, and close to burn-out from having to fulfil the many responsibilities of daily living, this message may feel like fuel cruelly poured onto a raging fire. For if God’s Word is really so powerful, and if I still don’t seem able to bear spiritual fruit, but instead often find myself struggling just to stay afloat, then don’t I have only myself to blame? I’m just not receptive enough. Not trying hard enough. I need to do more to meet my heavenly KPIs.

To think this way is to treat ourselves as a resource. Which is very different from how the Word of God operates. In both the first reading and the psalm, before the power of God’s Word reveals itself as a demanding seed, it comes as gentle rain and snow. Tenderly caressing the earth. Moisturising it. Making it fruitful. Clearly, God treats us less as a resource to be exploited than a treasure to be cherished and cared for. And it’s only as a result of God’s care that the human heart becomes fertile. Indeed God tenderises our hardened hearts with no less than the Blood of the only Son, and the Breath of the life-giving Spirit. Gradually transforming resistance into receptivity, hostility into surrender. Enabling us even to do what all creation has been doing until now: to wait patiently, and to groan hopefully for new birth. To bear the inevitable sufferings borne by those who would be fruitful in Christ. Not moaning out of misery, but groaning unto glory. For God is neither a HR manager nor a vendor of fast-food.

If this is true, then the challenge is not so much for us to work harder, but to remember more regularly how much God has done and is doing for us. To remember not just by celebrating the Sacraments, but also by reaching out to those who groan.

Sisters and brothers, if God truly treats us as treasures rather than resources, then what can we do to find our treasure in God, so as to treat one another in the same way today?

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