When it comes to facing failures in life, the farmer in the Gospel parable for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time sounds a lot like many of us. We work hard, and only sometimes succeed. Most of the best things that we give to others are not by them well received. Most of what we want to plant in the lives of those around us doesn’t “take”; it doesn’t become rooted and permanently planted in their lives.
All of us have to deal with failure, those areas where the best we’ve given to others comes up lacking, falling short of our hopes, our dreams, and our great expectations.
There are some biblical commentators who suggest that the parable of Jesus (Mt 13:1-23) was autobiographical. That may well be true. Jesus certainly had to face a whole lot of apparent failure. He knew full well the pain of failure:
He was born and raised in Nazareth and his own hometown folks rejected Him.
His own Hebrew countrymen rejected His message.
His handpicked twelve apostles? Well, one of them sold Him out for thirty pieces of silver and the others fled when He was crucified.
Peter wasn’t too swift to take His message to heart, Thomas was the doubter, and the others weren’t much better either.
Elijah, long before Christ, along with Jeremiah and other prophets as well, were notable failures, most of them being taken outside the walls of Jerusalem and then stoned to death.
Up to this point my remarks all sound terribly dismal and discouraging. But my point today is that we need to remember that Jesus did not let apparent failure stop Him. In His parable, Jesus went on to speak about a crop that yielded a harvest in successful amounts, some yields bringing spectacular success. Today’s Gospel parable is not a dirge – it is a celebration; it is a story of hope, not of despair.
Any crisis has within it both danger and opportunity. It is true that there are evils that surround us, but many of those evils are slowly being overcome. God is at work among us bringing good out of evil. We must remember that in the hands of God the slightest good can be multiplied to feed thousands if we would but hand our efforts into His care and providence.
You and I, like all good farmers who continually face floods and disasters of every sort, need to seriously engage ourselves in the enterprise of faith and hope, planting what we have, planting the best of what we have, and then letting God’s sun, wind, and gentle rains do the rest. God’s only-begotten Son, along with the gentle breath of His Holy Spirit, provide waters of grace to nourish and sustain what He has planted in the lives of those we love. The best years of our lives, and the best that we have given to others in them, or are giving right now, or will give in the future, will not be fruitless.
Many times I am called upon to console distraught parents who poured out all of their love and faith into their children, taught them the Catholic faith, sent them to religious education classes, or to Catholic schools, only to have them, as adults, leave our Church and go elsewhere, many times to a type of religion that requires little if any faith but which gives good feelings. We must remember in such cases that the love and the faith that we’ve planted in the hearts of those around us, particularly in the hearts and souls of our children, will eventually blossom. The hopes and dreams that we’ve planted in others, even whey they seem to be buried under too much dirt, will germinate, grow, and yield a harvest of some extent, even if our efforts do not now appear to be unqualified successes.
But that is life – and Jesus knew it. His parable could well have been autobiographical for it is truly a vignette of His life.
Sure, our world is a mess now, but it always has been. We need to see that there is also an amazing amount of goodness in it. The greatest miracle of all isn’t found at Lourdes, or Fatima, or Medjugorje, it’s found in those around us, in those who are, in spite of terrible odds, yielding up love, kindness, caring, and sensitivity thirty, sixty and a hundred fold. We have our modern day heroes among us who are leading us as never before in efforts to rid our world of oppression, racism, and injustice.
And so, O Christian, keep on planting God’s good seeds in the lives of those near to you. For God Himself has said through His prophet Isaiah that His Word shall go forth from His mouth “… and it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)
Faith and hope are what should be in our hearts, not defeat and despair.
Well, then, what do we mean by success? Who do we regard as having led successful lives? Have the rich and famous led successful lives?
Ralph Waldo Emerson was a famous American who was a prolific essayist, lecturer, and poet. Having moved away from the Christian religion he led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. It was a philosophy not associated with any particular religion. He was seen as a champion of individualism. Allow me to share with you one of his most famous quotes:
To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a little better place than we found it, whether by a healthy child, a garden path, or a redeemed social condition, to know even one life breathed easier because you lived, this is to have succeeded.
Nice thoughts, to be sure. But we might ask ourselves, where is Christ in them?
You and I are Christians, Catholic Christians to be exact. We believe that at the end of our lives we will meet Christ face to face. How will He judge us? What are the criteria by which we will be judged?
St. Matthew in the 25th Chapter of his gospel account gives us a very big clue.
Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’
It seems to me that if what we did in our lives to meet those standards we will have gone a long way to have lived a successful life.
May you and I pass the test.