Friday, June 10, 2016

The Frustrating Art of Sowing Seed

The world judges success in numbers.  Nielsen ratings. Record sales. Airplay.  Site hits.  The bigger the crowd the better.  How much money does a item bring in?  Success is measurable in bulk amount.  If something doesn't hit such high numbers, it isn't a success by worldly standards.

By worldly standards, Jesus of Nazareth would have been considered a failure.  He was followed by crowds, but those crowds were fickle, screaming 'Hosanna to the Son of David" one minute and "crucify him' the next.  Despite preaching the greatest sermons ever, his own disciples could be power hungry, petulant,  and cowardly.  Of his small inner circle, one sold him out (literally) and betrayed him, the leader denied knowing Him 3 times, and the rest ran.  He was handed over to a murderous empire by His own people, tortured, and finally crucified. Yet, He would rise from the dead, His words transformed the world and culture, and His followers would bravely go out to the known world and proclaim Him.

Not every word He preached initially hit home or hit home at all.  Not every group was moved to conversion. His words are the words of eternal life and were met with skepticism and belligerence by some.  He addresses this is the parable of the sower ( Matthew 13:1-23).  In this parable the sower casts seed out.  Whether it grows is dependent upon the ground which it hits.  Jesus likens this to those who hear his words.  Some will bear fruit from those words, most won't.    Some will be hostile to it.  Some will find it too hard.  Some will rise to the challenge.  In short, not every word of truth will fall on willing ears.  If you work in the fields of the Lord, that sucks!  In fact it can be depressing, frustrating, and maddening.  Many who work in the fields of the Lord will burn out if they determine success as the world does.  Some ministries, such a s youth ministry, have large turnover rates.

The frustration comes from this: the thrower of the seed has no control over the reception of the seed.  Being right isn't enough.  Casting seed is never a one and done event; but a decades long repetition in which one prays that the rights seed hits at the right time.  Our 'success', for lack of a better word, is measured one soul at a time.

We have to be aware that the seed of the Gospel is not the only seed being sown.  Immediately after the parable of sower and seed   is another parable: the wheat and the weeds. (Matthew 13:24-30).  In this parable a man sows wheat and his enemy sows weeds in the same plot of land.  We who minister in the Church are up against those who sow weeds.  In fact, those who sow weeds get a lot more fame, air time, and influence than we do.    Our seed is stronger than theirs, but theirs is thrown in much greater bulk.  Many times as a pastor I am all too aware that I am allotted an hour on a weekend to throw seed that somehow has to wedge its way in to weed strewn ground.

That is why the seed we cast matters.  It must be truth.  If we are throwing out anything less, we are throwing weeds.  People are not stupid.  If we are throwing out a variation of what they already hear, they will stop coming.  They are.  Playing nice, wanting to be popular, and dumbing down the teachings of the Gospel and the Church are the equivalent of not just casting weed seed, but putting roundup on the good seed growing!  What we teach in our classrooms, programs, and from the pulpit must be the truth in its entirety.  People will walk away.  They walked away from Jesus.  The rich young man walks away from Jesus.  Some of His disciples leave after the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6. Some will hear and reject.  That is beyond out control.

Truth, though, is to applied with charity.  Truth is not a weapon to beat down, but a salve to bind up.  There may be an initial sting, but that is a good thing.  When throwing the seed, we must have the good of the listener in mind.  That is an art.  We must be disposed to the good of the listener; to the eternal good. 

It is easy to get despondent when a strong program or event goes unheeded because things of lesser priority are routinely seen as of greater priority.  There is nothing new there.  It is part of the human condition.  As a pastor, I want what is best for my parish.  Most of the time, I see that unheeded.  However, we plug along.  Try again.  Throw out another handful of seed and pray that perhaps some of it falls on receptive ears.  That is working in the fields of the Lord.  Bl. Mother Theresa reminded us that God does call us to be successful, but faithful.  Rejection by the world isn't a sign of failure.  Jesus assures of this.

So chin up.  Wipe away the frustration and anger.  We have the duty of sowing seeds.  God provides the grace for the rest. 


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