15th Sunday of the Year (A)
Bank interest rates are always a matter of ‘interest’ and concern. If you are a borrower then low interest rates are attractive and desirable. If you are a saver however, the opposite is true. For savers the years since the financial crisis have been pretty gloomy. The return, or yield, on a cash deposit or investment is so paltry as to be almost negative when balanced against inflation. Most of us understand ‘yield’ or return on investment.
Jesus talks about yield in this morning’s gospel, not the yield on invested money, but the yield on invested, or planted, seed. He uses the image of a farmer sowing seed and of how the seed that falls into good soil yields some 30, some 60 and some 100%. In Jesus’s day a farmer using the haphazard method of random scattering of seed into largely unprepared land would have got a pretty poor return compared with modern farming methods. He might, if he was lucky have got a 10% return and probably much, much less (though probably still more than a deposit account today). The 30, 60 and 100% returns that Jesus talks of would have been unimaginable.
The seed, or the investment capital as it were, is obviously not money or corn but the word of God. That word is spoken in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. That word is scattered whenever the Gospel is spoken and heard, whenever anyone speaks or lives the words of faith, of hope, of love and compassion. For the word, or seed to germinate it needs to fall into good soil, soil that is watered. In baptism God’s word is given to us as a gift that can take root within us. But if it is to take root it has to be allowed to do so, encouraged to grow, given the opportunity of warmth, nourishment and care and if it is allowed to grow unhindered by all that can so easily choke it out, it can produce, not the ordinary return, but an exceptional yield and also a transformation in the soil itself. Good soil becomes even better soil by allowing this growth, this harvest of good works of faith and love to take place.
Yes, some seed will fall onto rocky ground and will be eaten by the birds – the vultures who prey on shallow humanity, on self-interested short-termism, on the ephemeral. Yes, some seed will fall into chaotic ground where weeds and brambles – the mess in our world and in our society – can so easily choke out everything that is wholesome: needless obsessions, debilitating and unnecessary anxieties, involuntary slavery to insidious external pressures. We can be sad about that and we can be sad that there will always be people who don’t, or won’t hear the word that is spoken; sad that there will always be people more interested in doing other things. But Jesus knows that and doubtless he cares about that, but he doesn’t allow that to distract from the powerful reality of the life that the word can bring. That word, that seed is the word of faith, the word of hope, the word of compassion and love which, if allowed to and encouraged to, can outstrip all reasonable expectations. God’s gift of faith to us, is that seed. It is how we allow that seed to develop in our lives that will determine the measure of its yield.