JULY 8, 2005- 15TH SUNDAY: Is 55:10-11; ROM 8:18-23; MT 13:1-23

I USE PARABLES WHEN I SPEAK TO THEM BECAUSE THEY LOOK BUT DO NOT SEE, THEY LISTEN BUT DO NOT HEAR OR UNDERSTAND. These words of our Savior, at a first hearing, seem to contradict the saying of Isaiah that was proclaimed in the first reading today: Ďmy word that goes forth from my mouth shall not return to me empty but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.í Is not Godís word sufficiently efficacious to overcome all resistance? And is it not Godís will and plan that all should come to acknowledge Jesus as Savior and so attain to salvation in his kingdom? How can it be, then, that Jesusí words, which, as he assures us else-where, are given him by the Father, meet with incomprehension and even resistance? Immediately as we reflect on these questions and investigate the problems they raise we discover that they are posed already by the two citations taken from the book of Isaiah. Jesus cites that prophet to explain why he does not trust his own message openly to his audience but reserves it for the few he has specially chosen.

As is regularly the case, the context of these texts provides the key needed for interpreting their proper meaning. For one thing, the passage that we heard in the first reading today is, in fact, from the Book of Isaiah but its author is not the same prophet whose words our Lord takes up. Rather, he is a distant disciple of the first Isaiah. The words Jesus cites in the Gospel were uttered by the court prophet Isaiah who lived prior to the Babylonian exile. This passage predicts the resistance the prophet was to meet and explains that it is caused by the dullness of heart of the people. The Lord will not force himself on any one, but offers a saving word to those who open their heart to the word he sends through his prophet. It was a couple of generations later, after long years of exile and suffering, that the prophet known as Second Isaiah, preached the message read out in todayís first reading. They imply that the message of the earlier prophet and all the words of God will prove fruitful for those who receive them with obedient and trusting faith. They will bring into existence a people, who, having been purified by suffering, are now ready to respond to the inspired word and bringing it to fulfillment. Prosperity and plenty had led to complacency and self-satisfaction in the audience of the first Isaiah; suffering and exile prepared the way for the prophetic word of the later prophet.

Similarly, in the second reading St Paulís teaching indicates that it is to those who are keenly aware of our needy human situation who find hope in the message of salvation. "We groan inwardly while we await the redemption of our bodies, even though we have the Spirit as first fruits." We are not to wait passively, however, as we can see from the example of Paul and the many saints who followed in his footsteps. Rather, we must labor at the great work assigned us of purifying our heart in faith and by such acts as increase charity and the loving knowledge of God.

This charity grows from the word implanted in our hearts by the preaching of Jesus. Our Lord himself explains his teaching along these lines in the Gospel text we have just heard. He refers to the pure heart of the one who receives his word with faith when he states: "what was sown on good soil is the man who hears the message and takes it in. He it is who bears a yield of a hundred- or sixty-or thirty-fold." These words of our Lord are addressed to each of us today that they we might bring them to fulfillment by our response. It depends on us to see that this word of God realizes the purpose for which it is sent to us. The drama depicted before our eyes in the life of Isaiah the prophet and in the preaching of Jesus continues to be enacted in our times. Many who hear the word of life stifle it through neglect that follows upon too great an involvement with comfort, pleasure or business, as they did in our Lordís own time. The primary concern of the Christian must be to remain united with the loving plan of the Father that is revealed to us in the word and the way of life of his Son. As we offer this Eucharist may we resolve to take his words as the guide and light of our life. Then shall we prepare our heart to receive him with loving desire when he comes at the end to bring us into the presence of the Father in the kingdom of his glory.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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