In the Gospel today, Jesus explains to his followers his Parable of the Sower. Many people of faith would fall into the third category: “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” (Mt 13:22). Jesus is a part of our life, we are growing in our faith, but our discipline and maturation, and so bearing of mature fruit is diminished. We are limited because Jesus is only a part of our life, not the core foundation. This is because we look to the world and its false promises to be our security and support.
Pope Francis questioned in his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality” (Francis 2013, 53). How often is it that the top voting issue in our national elections has to do with concern about the economy?
If we are placing our hope and focus, if our primary source of building for ourselves a secure foundation is in the political and economic realm, we are going to be consistently anxious and stressed. Our faith is going to be choked, and worse our politics will be shaping the Gospel instead of the Gospel shaping our politics. We will justify and rationalize behaviors from our leaders that are contrary to living our life aligned with the teachings of Jesus as long as the economy is going well.
These subtle vines of false security also promote a privatization of our faith. If we seek to counter and challenge injustice, if we call for an awareness of those who are vulnerable and suffering, if we call out actions that are immoral, speaking out for the rights of the unborn, we can face the backlash of being accused of stamping on an individual’s personal rights; being called a socialist or a leftist, by seeking to keep migrant families together, to provide safe haven for asylum seekers or refugees. Taking the risk to be “God’s microphone”, to speak the Gospel publicly, is challenging today because: “The process of secularization tends to reduce the faith and the Church to the sphere of the private and personal” (Francis 2013, 64).
To live our faith is not just a hobby and means more than just doing so in our own home. If we are going to mature as disciples of Jesus, we are going to need to resist the false lures of riches and material security, we are going to need to be willing to face the anxieties of criticism and hostility for speaking the truth of our faith. The unfortunate part is that we may face a lot of push back from those of our brothers and sisters even within our own churches, the Body of Christ.
We can mature as disciples when we are willing to commit daily to reading the Bible, seeking resources to better understand his word, praying and meditating, pondering the teachings of Jesus, and so better have the eyes to see and ears to hear his Word and guidance. As we build our foundation on Jesus and his teachings, put them into action in our everyday lives, build a support group, we can share with others the trials and successes of our journey of faith. These small acts will make a tremendous difference.
Courage is a mark of feeling the fear and saying and doing what we are inspired by God to do anyway. Let us call on the name of Jesus when we are tempted to place our trust in anything other than God, may we call on the love of the Holy Spirit to give us the words to speak and the actions to impart, with understanding, and kindness, when we are in the midst of unjust, disrespectful, or dehumanizing words or actions.
We need to trust in Jesus’ invitation. He is calling all of us to deepen our relationship with him and to invite others to do the same. The road ahead, and the trials we will face will not be easy. But as we face them, with Jesus and one another, we become stronger. We begin to mature and bear fruit when we allow Jesus to be our constant source, our foundation. Sustained by his power we can then act with courage and put into practice what we learn.
When we are choked by the vines of temptation from apparent goods and false senses of material security that seek to lull us into complacency and indifference, when the tendrils of anxiety and fear squeeze at our heart and throat to keep us indecisive and unresponsive to God’s call for us to act and speak beyond our comfort zone, to step out in love to serve and accompany others in need, we are to remember that we are not alone. We need to call on Jesus, trust in him, reach out to our brothers and sisters in faith, so to cut away the vines and thorns, all that is not of God, that attempt to choke us.
Over time our soil will become richer, our roots will grow deeper, the Love of the Holy Spirit will increase in our hearts, minds, and souls, we will begin to see others through God’s eyes, we will become more human, more open to a maturing relationship of communion with our loving God and Father and each other, that bears the mature fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control.
Photo: Plant in our backyard back in Florida, a symbol for us who place our trust and build our foundation in Jesus, growing and maturing free of the vines that attempt to choke it.