Wednesday, July 12, 2017

For anyone who has, will be given more

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Many a successful entrepreneur would not hesitate to share with you the secret of their success; if you want big returns, you must be willing to make bigger investments. “Money makes money”- as the saying goes! This pretty much sounds like the saying of Our Lord, sandwiched between the parable of the Sower and the Seed, and its explanation: “For anyone who has, will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but for anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Our most common response to this cryptic statement is that it simply is not fair “to give to him who has and take from him who has not”, seems like a perverse inversion of Robin Hood’s famous rationale for economic redistribution – ‘robbing the rich, to give to the poor.’

A second look at this enigmatic statement may reveal that it is anything but cruel. Rather, it may actually be an inescapable law of life. In every sphere of life more is given to the man who has, and what he has is taken away from the man who has not. Let me illustrate. In academia, everyone knows that the scholar who labours to amass knowledge is capable of acquiring more knowledge. It is to him that the funding, the research opportunities are given; and that is so because by his diligence and fidelity, he is more likely to succeed than any other candidate. On the other hand, the student who is lazy and refuses to work inevitably loses even the knowledge which he has. The same may be said of so many other examples. Many a person had some skill in a craft and lost it, because he neglected it.

What seems logical in life, is equally applicable in our spiritual lives. Faith is a verb, it must be exercised. Just like muscles in our body, faith can suffer atrophy when we fail to exercise it. Like muscles that tend to atrophy in zero gravity space, faith which is not challenged, also suffers the same fate. Every temptation we conquer makes us more able to conquer the next and every temptation to which we fall makes us less able to withstand the next attack. Every good thing we do, every act of self-discipline, every prayer said and sacrament received, makes us better able for the next; and every time we fail to use such an opportunity, we make ourselves less able to seize the next when it comes. Life is always a process of gaining more or losing more. If “money makes money,” then "having faith, practising our faith, leads to greater faith".

This is the key to understand the Parable of the Sower and the Seeds. The seed that is sown is the message of the kingdom. The soils are the people, the human hearts, who make the decision about the message. Though God is exceedingly generous and refuses to discriminate in His sowing, the soil of the human heart has the freedom to receive or reject it. There are many reasons why people do not respond by faith to the Word. Some might be hardened in unbelief, only superficially happy about the message, or too entangled with the cares of this world. Out of the four types of soils, only one proves fertile. “For anyone who has will be given more.”

Therefore, rather than exposing the weakness of God or His message, the parable here enables and compels a man to discover the truth about himself. Christ tells us that “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are revealed to you (who are His disciples), but they are not revealed to them.” In other words, the parable conceals truth from those who are either too lazy to think or too blinded by prejudice to see. It puts the responsibility fairly and squarely on the individual. It reveals truth to him who desires truth; it conceals truth from him who does not wish to see the truth. The latter is what we call the sin of incredulity.

Incredulity is more than just experiencing difficulty in understanding. Incredulity is, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2089) puts it, “the neglect of revealed truth or the wilful refusal to assent to it.” It is something deliberate. The first three types of soil illustrate this. To say that the Catholic faith is so simple that one would never experience difficulty in understanding it, would be a na├»ve claim. There is nothing wrong with experiencing difficulties in understanding, but there is a problem with incredulity. Here’s the difference:  The person with a difficulty says, “How can that be so?” whereas a person who is incredulous says, “That can’t be so!” The first statement expresses difficulty, but willingness to believe. The second statement expresses cynicism and unwillingness to submit to both reason and the Church’s teachings. The person with difficulties says, “I believe, Lord; help my unbelief!” The person with incredulity says, “I don’t believe Lord, and don’t bother to help my unbelief!”

The person with difficulties may be struggling, but he is struggling because he desires to understand fully and completely. There is hope here. This story, therefore, shows the relationship between faith and understanding. As St Anselm so rightly puts it, “faith seeks understanding" and understanding brings joy.  Faith always attempts to plunge into the depths of the mysteries of God. When we have faith in God, we will want a better relationship with Him, and it causes us to want to know God better. The two support each other.

Incredulity, on the other hand, is never the product of reason but rather the refusal to submit to reason. You can provide the best rational arguments to support revelation, and there would be those who would wilfully choose to disobey and reject what they secretly know to be true. That is why incredulity is not just merely a position taken, because there is a lack of proof. Incredulity is a sin, since it rejects the very grace of God that comes from His Living Word. By choosing not to believe, people who possess the first three kinds of soils, have cut themselves off from grace, cut themselves off from God, and finally cut themselves off from salvation.

What sets the last type of soil apart from the other three? What is the necessary condition of the heart to receive the Word of God? The answer is obedience. Venerable Cardinal Newman tells us, “To those who are perplexed in any way, for those who seek the light but cannot find it, one precept must be given — obey. It is obedience which brings a man into the right path. It is obedience which keeps him there and strengthens him in it.” The obedient heart is one which already possesses much and this predisposes it to receive much more.

At the end of the day, despite the widespread incredulity to the message of the gospel, this parable provides us with needed encouragement. Basically, the Lord is reminding us that no matter how good you are at sowing, and no matter how good the seed is, you won’t get a 100% germination rate. So we should not be overly grieved when not everyone receives the message. Our words go whistling down the wind; our message meets the impenetrable barrier of men's indifference; the result of all our work seems less than nothing. We may often wonder;  what kindles a fire in our bones leaves others stone cold, similarly, what thrills and moves our hearts leaves them icily indifferent. There’s more to sowing than the sower and the seed, there is the reception that the seed finds when it is planted. But our comfort is in knowing that nothing in this world happens outside the will of God. Everything has its place in the purpose of God and that somehow God is constantly weaving together success and failure, good and evil in a web of His designing. In spite of all the bad and unyielding heart soils, there will be those who would accept the life giving Word, take it to heart, and produce a great yield. Ultimately, there are no failures and there are no loose ends in the ultimate plan of God. So keep sowing!

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