15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Reflection: Rejoice in God’s fruitful work in the world


You gotta love it. Jesus, the son of a tekton (Greek for a woodworker, stone mason or builder/architect), invited fishermen to follow him, and then went around telling stories about farmers, baker women, shepherds and rich landowners — not a carpenter in the collection.

Jesus’ forays into the realm of other professions reminds us of 19th-century Catholic sisters who did the work most needed at any given time and place. They turned schools into hospitals and their homes into orphanages. One even befriended Billy the Kid. They did it all, certain that with God’s help, they were capable of serving their neighbor, no matter their preparation or preferences.

These sisters exemplified the promise we hear from Isaiah: Like the rain, the word/work of God will never be in vain. If God calls you to do something, it will work out somehow — with or without your understanding.

Not only did Jesus talk about a wide variety of occupations, but he did it with parables — stories designed to leave people wondering. That was the key to his teaching technique. No pat answers, but examples that could be understood in a number of ways, all of them designed to knock people off their high horses. We know that if a parable doesn’t upset or challenge us, we haven’t heard it right.  

That’s part of what we learn from today’s selection from Isaiah. Isaiah assures us that no matter what we think is going on, as surely as rain waters earth, God is working deep inside evolution. Although it may be subtle and slow, as frustratingly invisible as irrigation from snow melt, God’s word is never without effect: It gradually draws all things toward their fulfillment. That is Paul’s proclamation in today’s selection from Romans; he paints the image of all of creation groaning in giving birth to God’s unimaginable future — the glorious freedom of the children of God.  

Paul’s image of giving birth is very much like Jesus’ parable of the seeds: we plant something, believing that what will come of it will be much greater, newer and full of life than what we began with. In the interpretation the evangelists have given Jesus’ parable of the farmer sowing seed, the focus is on the soil – on how God’s word is received. But what if we looked for a minute at the sower?  

Dom Hélder Camara, the late archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Brazil, wrote one of his poem-prayers, “King’s son,” in The Desert is Fertile, about God and the seed. He began by asking God why creation is so wasteful, why fruits never equal the seedlings’ abundance, why springs scatter water and why we can never take advantage of all the energy the sun sends out. Instead of waiting for an answer, he prays, “May your bounty teach me greatness of heart. … Seeing you a prodigal and open-handed giver, let me give unstintingly, like a king’s son, like God’s own.”

We can think about our failures, the times we’ve been like seeds on the path and not paid reverent attention to someone. We can lament our lack of hope or courage to be faithful, the times when we’ve let stuff, popularity or status override our value systems. We can spend a lifetime bewailing what we have done and focusing on ourselves.

Suppose that instead we look to God’s bounteousness? Suppose that we concentrate on that crazy sower who thinks he has enough seed to scatter it all over, figuring that what sprouts but doesn’t flourish will provide nourishment to the soil and that the birds will carry seed to far off places that he could never reach on foot? Suppose we thought of God as giving us chance after chance, not worrying much about what withers but rejoicing in the thirty, sixty and hundredfold — or maybe even just ten? 

What will make us more God-like, focusing on our failures or exulting in those moments when we know God has worked through us to bring about something wonderful? That could be the birth of a child, the moment when the right word came to us to console someone or more unusual things like a friendship with Billy the Kid. What if we took Isaiah seriously, believing that God’s work keeps on keeping on, whether we notice it or not?

Jesus recognized and rejoiced in God’s fruitful work in the world. He saw it in plants and animals, fishers, bakers, rich and poor. Today he sees it in parents, teachers, garbage collectors and all sorts of others — including, of course, carpenters. Blessed are our eyes when we can see others as he did; for that’s how the power of his word gets into us, making us and our communities fertile and fruitful, fulfilling the will of the God who gives us life.

First Reading

(Isaiah 55: 10-11)

Thus says the LORD:
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.

Responsorial Psalm

(Ps 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14)

R. The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.

You have visited the land and watered it;
greatly have you enriched it.
God’s watercourses are filled;
you have prepared the grain.
R. The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.

Thus have you prepared the land: drenching its furrows,
breaking up its clods,
Softening it with showers,
blessing its yield.
R. The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.

You have crowned the year with your bounty,
and your paths overflow with a rich harvest;
The untilled meadows overflow with it,
and rejoicing clothes the hills.
R. The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.

The fields are garmented with flocks
and the valleys blanketed with grain.
They shout and sing for joy.
R. The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.

Second Reading  

(Romans 8: 18-23)

Brothers and sisters:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing
compared with the glory to be revealed for us.
For creation awaits with eager expectation
the revelation of the children of God;
for creation was made subject to futility,
not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it,
in hope that creation itself
would be set free from slavery to corruption
and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;
and not only that, but we ourselves,
who have the first fruits of the Spirit,
we also groan within ourselves
as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.


(Matthew 13: 1-23)

On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea.
Such large crowds gathered around him
that he got into a boat and sat down,
and the whole crowd stood along the shore.
And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying:
“A sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path,
and birds came and ate it up.
Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil.
It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep,
and when the sun rose it was scorched,
and it withered for lack of roots.
Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.
But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit,
a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

The disciples approached him and said,
“Why do you speak to them in parables?”
He said to them in reply,
“Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven
has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.
To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich;
from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
This is why I speak to them in parables, because
they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.
Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:
You shall indeed hear but not understand,
you shall indeed look but never see.
Gross is the heart of this people,
they will hardly hear with their ears,
they have closed their eyes,
lest they see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their hearts and be converted,
and I heal them.

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see,
and your ears, because they hear.
Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people
longed to see what you see but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

“Hear then the parable of the sower.
The seed sown on the path is the one
who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it,
and the evil one comes and steals away
what was sown in his heart.
The seed sown on rocky ground
is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.
But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
he immediately falls away.
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word
and it bears no fruit.
But the seed sown on rich soil
is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”