Isaiah 55:10-11; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 13:1-23
I think that what we suffer ...
To speak of suffering is to speak of human experience. We all suffer and, at various times of our life, most of us suffer acutely. Even here, right now in this Church, in this particular congregation there are people suffering, and some intensely. Suffering is not just a matter of pain. There probably isn't anyone here undergoing unbearable pain at the moment but I'm betting there are people here experiencing terrible suffering:
- a spouse, husband or wife, who no longer loves you
- a son or daughter walking a road you see will lead to unhappiness, or worse still, destruction
- children no longer practising the faith
- the terminal illness of a loved one
- unpayable bills
- slavery to gambling, drugs, alcohol
- serious divisions in the family
On and on it goes; there is suffering everywhere.
So what do you feel when you hear St Paul's: I think that what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us. Is this just 'pie-in-the-sky' stuff, as Joe Hill claimed in his poem:
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die?
You'll get pie in the sky when you die?
Or is it, as Karl Marx claimed, an 'opium' which makes us docile?
My own experience is that deep down inside me there is a hope, a longing for, even a mysterious remembrance of a voice which has already spoken these words of St Paul to my heart. His words are certainly not foreign to me; they exactly fit into a space inside me which has been shaped from the beginning to give them a home. I do believe there is a 'glory' waiting for us, and a majority of human beings share this belief.
Gobbledegook? You make up your own mind. Ask yourself if somewhere within your own experience of life, and especially of suffering, you 'retain the hope of being freed'? Are you are 'groaning' inwardly, along with the rest of creation, in a kind of 'act of giving birth'; waiting 'for our bodies to be set free?' (Note, by the way, that we are not asking to be set free from the body; we are asking for our bodies to be set free.)
The point of all this is that St Paul is not attempting to smother the reality of our suffering with a promise, however consoling. St Paul is giving voice to a universal experience of transcendent hope which looks forward to a liberation into ultimate wholeness and fulfilment.
St Paul goes so far as to say that all creation shares this 'hope of being freed' with us. He is referring to the rest of the cosmos, the material world of inanimate objects, of plants and of animals. This view is totally in harmony with the Genesis account which sees the entire creation somehow sharing in the effects of Adam's sin. 'Cursed be the soil because of you', says the creator God.
Through Original Sin the creation somehow, through no fault of its own 'was made unable to attain its purpose.' But, with us, it 'retains the hope of being freed from its slavery to decadence (corruption).'
This is a deep reality St Paul is touching on, the truth of the intimate connection between humankind and the material universe. Not only are we actually made from the same 'dust' as the rest of creation but our human bodies, the bodies which defines us as individual persons, will eventually return to this dust. If our bodies are to be glorified so must the whole of the rest of the material universe be glorified, so that, as St Paul says, it may 'enjoy the same freedom and glory as the children of God.'
What a marvellous, marvellous truth this is. It means that when we, in the material body of which we are essentially formed, praise God - the rest of the world praises God through us. We give voice to dumb creation. And what's more, when we sin the guilt falls on the whole of the material world which sins through us.
We can see now why God said to Adam and Eve, 'cursed be the soil because of you.'
Creation awaits our salvation because our salvation will be its own.
As a final thought we might remember that the sower in today's Gospel sows the seed in the soil. This is not just metaphor. The gospel is not sown in our disembodied souls but in our embodied selves. The seed must grow in our bodies as well as in our souls. Our faith must be complete, embodied, incarnate, like the Master, who saved the whole cosmos by giving his body on the Cross.