Friday, 29 June 2012

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark:26-34

In April I picked up an acorn from under a tree in Maffra and took it back to the presbytery. I put it in a glass of water and it sank to the bottom where it lay for twenty-four hours. Then our housekeeper retrieved a nice pot from somewhere and I planted the acorn; it’s now a tiny little four-leafed tree.

My brother-in-law has a huge livestock and grain property in New South Wales. Every year he does the same as I did with the acorn but he does it on a gigantic scale with wheat and barley and other crops. The harvest he produces is rather more impressive than my little oak tree but the dynamics are no different; a partnership with God.

Somewhere in my acorn, as in the grain he plants at cropping time, there is a principle of growth which he did not put there. He does not, he cannot grow his crops; they grow by themselves: Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.

But God, in his infinite kindness (and humility), offers us a share in producing the harvest. He lovingly invites us to responsibility for its successful production. This partnership offered by God is a great kindness, and a privilege not to be taken lightly. Man provides the labour: A man throws seed on the ground; and God provides the growth: Night and day … the seed is sprouting.

Like all good parables these words of Jesus reach much further than the dynamics of growth which provide a paddock of standing wheat or a sturdy oak tree. This parable tells us about every harvest, material and spiritual. God provides the principle of life for growth and we provide the labour.

Immediately one truth becomes obvious: The labour we provide is always at the service of the growth we are hoping for. My labour must be for what will bring proper growth to the acorn. [Note, by the way, that growth does not serve our labour.] Our labour is always at the service of the growth we are hoping for. This is true for a farmer labouring for a rich crop of wheat; a parent working for healthy growth for a child; a Christian labouring for growth in holiness; or the Catholic Church labouring for a rich harvest of souls, not to mention a harvest of vocations. The labour is always at the service of true growth.

Let me clarify this a little further. One of the amazing things about visiting my brother-in-law on his property is that you can always predict what he’ll be doing. Depending on the time of year he will be harvesting, or cropping, or crutching sheep, or shearing, or spraying weeds, or cutting hay, and so on. It’s a routine he never varies because he knows he is serving a truth, a dynamic of growth, which is greater than he is. He well understands that he 'does not know' how the seed grows but he does know that if he wants the best chance of growth for his harvest he must follow the immutable principles of good agriculture.

Can a parent hope for growth to maturity for a child if he does not discipline? Can a Christian grow in holiness if he doesn’t pray? Can we expect the spread of the Gospel if we don’t evangelise? The law of the harvest is true for all growing things: Our labour must always be at the service of growth.

And if we do what is required, and only what is required – things will grow while we ‘sleep’.

The temptations to change what cannot be changed and what therefore mustn’t be changed are ever present and easily given in to. However, this usually result in disaster.

The principles of good agriculture have their counterpart in most human activities, and especially in the spiritual life. All we have to do is what is required; to resist the temptation to disobediently ‘fiddle with things’. We humans, of course, creative little beings that we are, are ‘born fiddlers’. We seem to have this overwhelming need to express ‘ourselves’ in every process; to make everything ‘our achievement.’ Farmers know this can be a fatal madness. We Catholics are slowly beginning to realise the same thing.

It is when we ‘fiddle’ with the rules which govern growth that the harvest is poor; and when the harvest is poor, we should immediately ask, ‘Has someone been fiddling with the process?’

The gift of growth comes from God, not from us. Some find this an impossible truth to make their own. All around us we see the disastrous consequences of this failure to obey – in our marriages, in our children, in our moral standards, in our suicide numbers – and even in our priestly and religious vocations.

The answer? Follow the law of the harvest. Trust the gift and trust God’s timing. Serve growth and serve life. Learn to participate with God in the way he has laid out for us. Trust God’s power to see our growth through to the end and trust that if we do what his will shows us then the power of God will prevail.

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