I recently heard of an interesting TV commercial that had been put out by Catholic Charities in the Philippines a while back. The commercial begins with a businessman walking into a crowded subway. He is rushed and he is carrying his lunch in a bag. As he is hurrying to catch his train he notices a homeless man sitting on the ground in a corner. The man is dirty and obviously in need. At first the businessman makes to walk on by but then he stops, walks over to the homeless man and gives him his sack lunch.
Now, a second scene – it is the next day – once again, the businessman enters the busy subway station carrying his lunch and again he sees the homeless man. He tries to walk by but once more his conscience calls and he heads over to give his lunch to the homeless man. Things change though and this time the homeless man’s face changes to that of the face of Christ.
Finally, a third scene. This time we see from the viewpoint of the homeless man sitting in the subway station watching as people rush by. We see the businessman once again coming forward with his lunch but the face of the businessman changes to that of the face of Christ.
In this short commercial we find a fine portrayal of both the dynamic of Christian giving and receiving and also the dynamic of encounter with Christ and transformation in the Christian life.
An interesting point of reflection regarding the parable of the sower and the seed that we are given in this Sunday’s gospel (Mt. 13:1-23) is the almost remarkable carelessness of the sower. He certainly does not discriminate in the scattering of the seed.
The sower goes out to sow and, with broad sweeping arms, copiously disseminates his seeds. He does not seem concerned about selecting the terrain, since many of the seeds are lost. Only those seeds that fall on good earth bear fruit. Jesus, even if he does not say it, is comparing himself to the sower. His generosity in sowing seeds is entirely his, not ours. The sower does not calculate nor measure his generosity. All the more! He seems to place his faith also in trampled soil – rocky soil as much as in the yielding, ploughed earth. The sower tosses his seed even in the bad earth, hoping that it will take root and sprout. The whole range of soils is important for the sower. In fact, there is no part of the soil that he does not consider worthy of attention. Not a single portion is discarded. The terrain is the world, even that part of the world that is each one of us. It is not difficult to recognize in the diversity of the soils the complexity of situations in the world and in each one of us. Jesus does not want to divide men and women in two categories, those who represent fertile soil and those who represent arid soil. (Quote taken from Bishop Vincenzo Paglia)
There is, at heart, a mystery to the encounter with Christ and the movement of God’s gratuitous grace in our lives. This encounter is something that can neither be programmed nor predicted – although, we, as church, often try our hardest it seems. The inner terrain of each of our hearts seems to be the determining factor when the possibility of encounter with Christ draws near. This openness to possibility, this being “good soil” can occur anywhere and at anytime – from the pew of a church to a busy subway station.
It is helpful to note that parables are not meant to be likened to engineering manuals which give precise directions and formulations. Rather, the dynamic of the parable is better likened to an invitation to a feast. We receive the invitation, we go and enter into the feast and it is within the feast that we encounter others and form relationships; all of a sudden there are new possibilities which we might never have expected and, in all of this, we come to know more deeply and live more authentically the mystery of Christian discipleship. We are meant to “sit” in the parable and let it speak to us rather than trying to pry and wring out its truths by our own effort. Through this parable of the sower and the seed our Lord is inviting us into the mystery of encounter with himself and the mystery of keeping our hearts open and cultivated.
The commercial noted above is powerful by the very fact that it does not need nor seek to explain anything. It just portrays a moment. A man made a decision and in that decision the Kingdom was able to break through and there was transformation.
A parable is an invitation. “A sower went out to sow…”