In the Gospel today, Jesus explains to his followers his Parable of the Sower. I see many Christians experiencing 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 may be growing in our faith, but our discipline and maturation is stunted, and so the 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 have to do with the state of and concern for 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 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. 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. Disagreement and division has certainly been on the rise, but we need to remember it has been within the Church since the Apostles. We are human and fallen at that, so we need to continually give our selves over to God by surrendering our wills to God’s will.
We can do so and mature as disciples when we are willing to commit daily to reading the Bible, hearing his Word proclaimed and receiving his Body and Blood each Sunday or more often when we can, seeking resources to better understand his word, praying and meditating, pondering and struggling with 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, not denying it or fighting it but embracing it and saying and doing what we are inspired by God to do. Calling on the name of Jesus when we are tempted to place our trust in anything other than God grants us access to divine support. Calling on the love of the Holy Spirit opens our minds and hearts to receive the words to speak and the actions to impart with understanding and kindness when we find ourselves in the midst of unjust, disrespectful, or dehumanizing words or actions.
Jesus calls us as he did his first disciples to deepen our relationship with God and each other. We are to invite others, within and without of our faith tradition, to join us as we walk the road ahead. There will be pain and suffering, there will be trials and loss, but we are to resist the temptation to bury our heads in the sand or to turn away from God. Trusting in our interconnectedness with God and one another, we will become more mature in our faith.
Apparent goods and false senses of material security are the vines of riches that will lull us into excessive comfort, complacency, hyper self-sufficiency, and indifference to the needs of others. Curving in upon ourselves will choke and cut us off from each other, leading to an increase in our stress. Instead of allowing anxious thoughts to overwhelm and keep us indecisive and unresponsive we need to seek God’s will and engage in guidance from others we trust. God heals us but also calls us to step out beyond our comfort zones. This happens when we are willing to love and serve others in need. Difficult? Yes. Yet, we can trust that God will also give us the means to accomplish the task at hand.
We need to remember that we will not to face any trial, tribulation, or challenge alone. When we turn toward and trust in Jesus and reach out to our brothers and sisters in faith and good will, we cut away the vines and thorns, all that is not of God, that attempt to impale and choke us. As the vines are uprooted, our soil will be aerated. The Love of the Holy Spirit will have more room to grow and increase in our hearts, minds, and souls. We will begin to see others through God’s eyes, become more human, and bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control.
Photo: Plant in our backyard, a symbol for us who place our trust and are rooted in God, growing and maturing despite the vines that attempt to choke us.