Taste and See: the longed for harvest

Samuel_Palmer - The_Harvest_Moon

The shorter version of the Gospel offered in the Lectionary for yesterday’s Mass, strips away a number of the parables of the Kingdom, and the commentary on this particular Gospel.

You might find it helpful to read this parable over to yourself a couple of times, gently seeing what it connects with in your life, and then bringing it to the Lord in prayer.

Jesus put another parable before the crowds, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everybody was asleep his enemy came, sowed darnel all among the wheat, and made off. When the new wheat sprouted and ripened, the darnel appeared as well. The owner’s servants went to him and said, “Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? If so, where does the darnel come from?” “Some enemy has done this” he answered. And the servants said, “Do you want us to go and weed it out?” But he said, “No, because when you weed out the darnel you might pull up the wheat with it. Let them both grow till the harvest; and at harvest time I shall say to the reapers: First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.”’

Matthew 13:24-30

The owner of the field, the sower of the seed, waits patiently for the harvest. He trusts in the goodness of the seed, and that, despite the weeds that surround it, it will flourish and provide a good harvest.

How often we lack that patience and trust. And how often our desire to put things right ends up doing more damage!

St Paul, as usual, sees how it is in our acknowledging our inability to get things right, that we are most open to God’s saving work.

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant… (2 Corinthians 3:4-5 ESV)

Image is of The Harvest Moon, by Samuel Palmer.
For a brief talk on the painting, click here.

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Speak Lord: Waiting for the harvest

parable-wheat-tares

The farming metaphors which began with last week’s parable of the sower continue in the gospel of this Sunday, the 16th in the year

 Jesus put another parable before the crowds, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everybody was asleep his enemy came, sowed darnel all among the wheat, and made off. When the new wheat sprouted and ripened, the darnel appeared as well. The owner’s servants went to him and said, “Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? If so, where does the darnel come from?” “Some enemy has done this” he answered. And the servants said, “Do you want us to go and weed it out?” But he said, “No, because when you weed out the darnel you might pull up the wheat with it. Let them both grow till the harvest; and at harvest time I shall say to the reapers: First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.”’

He put another parable before them, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest shrub of all and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and shelter in its branches.’

He told them another parable, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like the yeast a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through.’

In all this Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables; indeed, he would never speak to them except in parables. This was to fulfil the prophecy:

I will speak to you in parables
and expound things hidden since the foundation of the world.

Then, leaving the crowds, he went to the house; and his disciples came to him and said, ‘Explain the parable about the darnel in the field to us.’ He said in reply, ‘The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world; the good seed is the subjects of the kingdom; the darnel, the subjects of the evil one; the enemy who sowed them, the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; the reapers are the angels. Well then, just as the darnel is gathered up and burnt in the fire, so it will be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that provoke offences and all who do evil, and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. Then the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Listen, anyone who has ears!’

Matthew 13:24-43

  •  What values and virtues do you find in these parables and the other teaching from Jesus that follows?
  • What are their opposites?
  • Which feature most in your life? How can you encourage the best and avoid the worst?

 

Speak Lord: else we are silent

Courbet - The Wave

The second reading at Sunday’s Mass, the Mass of the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, acknowledges our limitations, our weakness, and how God responds to that.

The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words, and God who knows everything in our hearts knows perfectly well what he means, and that the pleas of the saints expressed by the Spirit are according to the mind of God.

Romans 8:26-27

How remarkable that what God does is create communion between us and him, even in our faltering to find the words. The love that is the Spirit is like a wave that lifts us up and carries us towards God the Father.

Courbet the Wave - detail

Image: The Wave, Gustav Courbet

Speak Lord: Praise the good God

Mary

The psalm at Sunday’s Mass has the congregation echo in song (ideally) the praise of God’s goodness and care which was the subject of the first reading

 O Lord, you are good and forgiving.

O Lord, you are good and forgiving,
full of love to all who call.
Give heed, O Lord, to my prayer
and attend to the sound of my voice.

O Lord, you are good and forgiving.

All the nations shall come to adore you
and glorify your name, O Lord:
for you are great and do marvellous deeds,
you who alone are God.

O Lord, you are good and forgiving.

But you, God of mercy and compassion,
slow to anger, O Lord,
abounding in love and truth,
turn and take pity on me.

O Lord, you are good and forgiving.

Psalm 85:5-6,9-10,15-16

The psalmist moves from expressions of praise and gratitude for God’s goodness to others, to a request that this goodness should be shown also to him.

How often is it easier to trust that God is good to others, but hesitate before entrusting ourselves and our weaknesses to him

  • What do you hide from the Lord?
  • Why?
  • Why will he be merciful to you?

 In praying with the psalms, it is often helpful to use play to bring us to prayer.

One, sometimes provocative, way of doing this is to change the pronouns of the text

As in the following

O Lord, you are good and forgiving,
full of love to all who me when I call.
You give heed, O Lord, to my prayer
and attend to the sound of my voice.

But when do I call and for what?

All the nations  I shall come to adore you
and glorify your name, O Lord:
for you are great and do marvellous deeds,
you who alone are God.

What holds me back from the fullness of adoration of the Lord?

But you, God of mercy and compassion,
slow to anger, O Lord,
abounding in love and truth,
turn and take pity on me.

That last verse was not changed, but how true would this reworked version of it be?

Like my God, I am merciful and compassionate
slow to anger,
abounding in love and truth,
my brothers and sisters can turn to me, sure to find pity and help.

What could make it true?

Image of Mary and Jesus from Church of the Visitation, Ein Kerem, in the Holy Land. Photograph (c) Allen Morris, 2014.

Speak Lord: lenient, mild in judgement

Mother Teresa

The first reading at Mass on Sunday, the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, speaks of a gentleness in the God who cares for everything, every one.

There is no god, other than you, who cares for every thing,
to whom you might have to prove that you never judged unjustly;
Your justice has its source in strength,
your sovereignty over all makes you lenient to all.
You show your strength when your sovereign power is questioned
and you expose the insolence of those who know it;
but, disposing of such strength, you are mild in judgement,
you govern us with great lenience,
for you have only to will, and your power is there.

By acting thus you have taught a lesson to your people
how the virtuous man must be kindly to his fellow men,
and you have given your sons the good hope
that after sin you will grant repentance.
Wisdom 12:13,16-19

  •  Why is God lenient and mild in judgement?
  • What can you take from that as a guide for your own life?

A powerful story is told of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Mother Teresa:

One day Mother Teresa went to a local bakery to ask for bread for the starving children in the orphanage. The baker, outraged at people begging for bread from him, spat in her face and refused. Mother Teresa calmly took out her handkerchief, wiped the spit from her face and said to the baker, “Okay, that was for me. Now what about the bread for the orphans?”
The baker, shamed by her response, gave her the bread she wanted.

  •  What helped her to behave in such a moderate way?
  • What can you take from that as a guide for your own life?

Taste and see: sing the praise of the God who loves you.

sparrow in the Alhambra, Granada

The Roman Missal offered two alternative Communion antiphons for Mass this Sunday.

Here is one of them:

The sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for her young:
by your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
Blessed are they who dwell in your house,
for ever singing your praise.
Cf. Ps 83: 4-5

The particular sparrow featured in the picture had found his home in the glorious Courtyard of the Lions, in the Alhamabra, Granada.

Court of the Lions

Court of the Lions 2

Conservators may have problem with the sparrow making its home amidst such splendour, but most of the rest of us find it a delightful sight. Just like the psalmist did, seeing in the incongruence something of the surprising delight God takes in us.

Rejoice in your littleness, and your contingence, Beloved of God.

sparrow in the Alhambra, Granada

 

Photographs (c) Allen Morris, 2014

 

Taste and See: Imagine a sower…

Christ the Sower

Today we have the shorter version of the Gospel heard at Mass on Sunday.

Jesus left the house and sat by the lakeside, but such large crowds gathered round him that he got into a boat and sat there. The people all stood on the beach, and he told them many things in parables.

He said, ‘Imagine a sower going out to sow. As he sowed, some seeds fell on the edge of the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on patches of rock where they found little soil and sprang up straight away, because there was no depth of earth; but as soon as the sun came up they were scorched and, not having any roots, they withered away. Others fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Others fell on rich soil and produced their crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Listen, anyone who has ears!’

Matthew 13:1-9

Many homilies on this gospel become moralising, quizzing us on what sort of soil are we to receive the seed that is the word of God.

The question is worth pondering, but too often the answer is rather depressing and does not necessarily lead us anywhere.

It is interesting, at least, that Jesus does not say ‘Imagine the soil in a field…’, though of course he does suggest various types of soil and their consequence for the seed scattered on it.

He says ‘Imagine a sower going out to sow…’

Who is the sower who sows the seed that is the word of God in our lives? He is no hired hand, in for the day on a bit of piece work. He is the living God who seeks to plant the word more and more deeply in our lives, that it may flourish and bear fruit, every day of our lives.

When the soil of our hearts is hardened, surely it is mostly he that resorts to the spade to turn it over, and make it more fitting. When there are weeds, he’s down there trying to clear the ground, when its right to do so, but when the time is not right, biding his time. The sower who becomes the gardener will appreciate a little help from us, of course, a little cooperation. But sometimes we are so flattened by life, so distracted by a thousand things: he does not then abandon us to our own devices, he is the sower who longs to see even our poor soil be restored to what it is intended for.

  • When/how has God tended to the soil of your life?
  • What fruit does the word of God bear in your life?

Taste and See: when less is more

St DOminic, Matisse sketch

The second reading at yesterday’s Mass speaks of God’s creation moving towards the fulfilment of its purpose, fruitfulness, harvest.

I think that what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us. The whole creation is eagerly waiting for God to reveal his sons. It was not for any fault on the part of creation that it was made unable to attain its purpose, it was made so by God; but creation still retains the hope of being freed, like us, from its slavery to decadence, to enjoy the same freedom and glory as the children of God. From the beginning till now the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth; and not only creation, but all of us who possess the first-fruits of the Spirit, we too groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free.

Romans 8:18-23

We can envisage that achievement, that fulfilment, in many ways – when all are good; when all are obedient to the loving will of God; and so on.

The other metaphors around in yesterday’s readings speak of harvest, about plenty, and production.

But maybe the harvest of God is best achieved when we let go of our desires to have and to possess: a harvest achieved in surrender rather than accomplishment.

Something of this thought inspires the following poem by Tagore.

Time and time I came to your gate
with raised hands, asking for more and yet more.
You gave and gave, now in slow
measure, now in sudden excess.
I took some, and some things I let
drop; some lay heavy on my hands;
Some I made into playthings and broke
them when tired; till all the wrecks and
the hoards of your gifts grew immense,
hiding you, and the ceaseless expectation
wore my heart out.

Take, oh take – has now become my cry.
Shatter all from this beggar’s bowl:
put out this lamp of the importunate
watcher, hold my hands, raise me from
the still gathering heap of your gifts
into the bare infinity of your uncrowded presence.

Rabindranath Tagore

 Image: Cartoon of St Dominic. Matisse for the chapel at Vence. Photograph (c) Allen Morris, 2013.

Speak Lord: acts of love leading to a harvest of life

the-sower-sower-with-setting-sun-1888 van gogh

There is a longer and shorter form of the Gospel passage in the Lectionary today. The longer one features here.You may have heard the shorter one, which comprises only of the parable and its introductory paragraph.

Jesus left the house and sat by the lakeside, but such large crowds gathered round him that he got into a boat and sat there. The people all stood on the beach, and he told them many things in parables.

He said, ‘Imagine a sower going out to sow. As he sowed, some seeds fell on the edge of the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on patches of rock where they found little soil and sprang up straight away, because there was no depth of earth; but as soon as the sun came up they were scorched and, not having any roots, they withered away. Others fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Others fell on rich soil and produced their crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Listen, anyone who has ears!’

Then the disciples went up to him and asked, ‘Why do you talk to them in parables?’ ‘Because’ he replied, ‘the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are revealed to you, but they are not revealed to them. For anyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. The reason I talk to them in parables is that they look without seeing and listen without hearing or understanding. So in their case this prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled:

You will listen and listen again, but not understand,
see and see again, but not perceive.
For the heart of this nation has grown coarse,
their ears are dull of hearing, and they have shut their eyes,
for fear they should see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their heart,
and be converted
and be healed by me.

‘But happy are your eyes because they see, your ears because they hear! I tell you solemnly, many prophets and holy men longed to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.

‘You, therefore, are to hear the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom without understanding, the evil one comes and carries off what was sown in his heart: this is the man who received the seed on the edge of the path. The one who received it on patches of rock is the man who hears the word and welcomes it at once with joy. But he has no root in him, he does not last; let some trial come, or some persecution on account of the word, and he falls away at once. The one who received the seed in thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this world and the lure of riches choke the word and so he produces nothing. And the one who received the seed in rich soil is the man who hears the word and understands it; he is the one who yields a harvest and produces now a hundredfold, now sixty, now thirty.’

Matthew 13:1-23

The withering of new shoots of hope is common.

Jesus speaks to the ‘people about such withering, and his parable offers a cautionary tale to us.

BUt to his disciples he says ‘Happy are your eyes because they see, your ears because they hear! I tell you solemnly, many prophets and holy men longed to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.’

  • What have you see and heard that is blessing for you?
  • How has it been blessing for you? How does it hold at bay that withering of the new shoots of hope and love?

The painting by Vincent Van Gogh, dates from 1888, was painted in Arles, and presently resides in the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, Netherlands

Speak Lord: First Birth or Rebirth

resurrection1

The second reading at tomorrow’s Mass speaks of the renewal or completion of Creation.

I think that what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us. The whole creation is eagerly waiting for God to reveal his sons. It was not for any fault on the part of creation that it was made unable to attain its purpose, it was made so by God; but creation still retains the hope of being freed, like us, from its slavery to decadence, to enjoy the same freedom and glory as the children of God. From the beginning till now the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth; and not only creation, but all of us who possess the first-fruits of the Spirit, we too groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free.
Romans 8:18-23

  • What does Paul mean by ‘slavery to decadence’?
  • Where might that slavery feature in your life?
  • How might you find freedom from it so as ‘to enjoy the same freedom and glory as the children of God’?
  • For whose being brought to birth, being brought to the fullness of life, do you presently commit yourself to, and work?

Painting: The Resurrection, Cookham by Sir Stanley Spencer (1891-1959).
A more detailed, and copyrighted, version of the painting can be seen here.

For an introduction to this great painting, click here.