Over the years while leading Bible studies, participating in RCIA to help folks fully enter the Catholic Church, or just in the odd discussion, I try to make a point about the most basic purpose of Sacred Scripture. It is simply this: for God to reveal God’s self to us – an invitation to a personal and communal covenant relationship. God tells us about God’s self through stories, the people’s experience of God in the history of Israel, and most especially in his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Think about the stories of our ancestors in faith. Basically, they all begin with an invitation to begin, follow, and slowly learn about God. My reading of the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Moses, King David, the prophets, and more all began with an invitation. Their encounter with God led them to a journey of an ever-deepening relationship with God. Along the way there are plenty of questions – some as simple as Moses’ inquiry about the name of God: “if I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what do I tell them?” (Ex 3:13) The same pattern is played out in Jesus’ calling the apostles from their fishing boats, tax collection stations, and other endeavors. Calling them to leave all behind and journey with him for three years: from Galilee to Calvary.
Sounds a lot like dating. It is as though they dated God and, in the end, accepted the invitation to a lifelong relationship. In biblical terms that is called being in Covenant with God. As it says in 43 places in the Hebrew Scriptures, “I am your God and you are my people.”
Dating – perhaps that is a way to think about the way our relationship with God grows, seasons and matures. As odd as it might seem, think about your walk in the life of faith as an adventure in dating.
What do we know about dating? We’ve all been there – or will be. Dating is this amazing array of experiences that include the first introduction. Some people are bold, bodacious and daring just walking right up, “Hi my name is John, I’d like to go out with you.” Most of us were not. It was more like a slow waltz, carefully considered, the next move well planned however awkwardly. In listening to the stories of the couples in marriage preparation, even though there is a world of online match making – the slow waltz remains operative.
Eventually a date is offered – even if as simple as “let’s meet for coffee.” The invitation is accepted, and the questions will soon follow. It is the normal set of 20-questions about family, growing up, school, work, hobbies, interests, and more. In time there comes an easiness in conversation, a comfort, a longing and perhaps the realization that this person is “the one” with whom you are to have a life-long relationship. We call that marriage. In Scripture it is called covenant, which is quite often spoken about in terms of marriage.
Of course, there are other times when 20-questions is bypassed and the recognition is instantaneous.
One of my favorite stories is a couple that were set up on a blind date. Both had taken a break from dating after the end of a previous relationship. But both were ready to give it another go. Jack describes the evening as somewhat akin to 20 questions evolving into an interrogation as Jill seemed rather reticent about providing answers or engaging. Jack was a little baffled. He almost wondered if she was going to get the emergency call 20 minutes into the date providing a graceful exit strategy. 20 minutes came and went, still she seemed very reserved. But there was something about her that let him know he wanted a second date. Jill went home, called her mom, and told her that she had just met the man she would marry. She was right. Married six years with three kids. Dating is a mystery.
Today’s gospel is an invitation for each of us to learn something about God so we can decide if want “a second date” so as to ever deepen the relationship.
In the traditional understanding of the parable of “The Sower and Seed,” the focus is often on the soil as a description of our hearts, of our openness to the word of God being sown into our lives. The soil/heart is described as a well-trod path, rocky ground, a bramble of thorns, or rich fertile soil. There is some insight there to be sure, but it does not necessarily give insight into a remedy. Some have described it as “the soil under your feet”. All one must do is to look down, assess the conditions where you stand in life, and move. Move to the rich fertile soil – and yes, along the way you will have to deal with birds, the weeds and the scorching sun.
But if the dating metaphor as any merit, where should the focus be with the telling of the parable? Let me suggest the Sower. Do you want to get to know the Sower? And what would be the motivation? Just another way of saying what does this parable reveal about the character of God.
At least two things stand out for me: generosity and persistence.
Generous beyond measure as he sows the seed without regard to condition of the heart or where someone stands at a particular point in time. Some might say wasteful – I mean why sow seed on the well-trod path? Maybe a bird will scoop it up… and maybe just poop it out some place where it will thrive. Sorry for the perhaps too graphic option – but such are the possibilities when generosity is in play. Such is the nature of God. Generous with his love and invitations.
You have to admire God’s persistence. The Sower just rains down that seed knowing with each scatter the possibilities are endless and will be achieved: “Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”
Generous and won’t give up on us – no matter what we have done or failed to do. No matter if we are faithful disciples or prodigal child, if we are Peter the rock or Peter who denied Christ, or if we are just you and me trying to get by a life whose journey consists of well-trod path, rocky ground, a bramble of thorns, and rich fertile soil.
This parable and others, all the stories and accounts of Jesus – all are invitations to a deeper life-long relationship with our Savior. It He the “one”? The one to whom we might utter the words, “I love you. I cannot imagine life with you. I would die for you.” Words of deep love between lover and beloved. Words our Savior has already spoken like rain and snow come down to water the earth. Words spoken generously, spoken persistently. Words awaiting a reply so that they will achieve their end.
Maybe you instantly know that Jesus is “the one.” Maybe you need 20 questions? Then look to the life and words of Jesus in Scripture – the answers are there. Either way there is the invitation. Say “Yes” to the invitation. Let your Eucharistic “amen” be part of the “yes” and continue the life-long relationship of covenant with God. Let each prayer be “yes.” Let your worship and praise be “yes.” Let your life be “yes.”
Dating, marriage, love, covenant – all of it mystery.
But you will never know the depth of the mystery until you say “yes” and accept the invitation.