Eleventh Sunday: The Lord Gives the Growth
The ancient Hebrews understood agriculture. Their lives were dependent on the crops they cultivated and the animals they raised. Yet, they knew that the wonder of growth belonged to the Lord. Paul would allude to this in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” When, in today's first reading, Ezekiel prophesied that the Lord would take a sprig from a tree and turn it into a noble cedar, the people recognized in this prophecy that growth is always in God's hands. He would do more for them than they could imagine. Israel, a nation in exile at the time of this prophesy, would become the nation that the whole world would respect. Every kind of bird, all the nations, would live under the tree of Israel. God's wonders, like the wonders of agriculture, were too wonderful to understand.
The people who heard Jesus tell the parable of the farmer's life also shared the wonder of the soil. The farmer works hard during the day, but he can't make the seed grow into a plant, and the plant produce fruit. God causes the growth. In our modern terms, the farmer creates the best environment for growing, but God causes the growth. Jesus' point is that the Kingdom of God is, like the plants, in God's hands. The workers in the Lord's fields must do their best to create the proper environment for growth, but God cause the growth. The parable comforts the people of the early Church in face of discouragement when their efforts don't seem to be getting them anywhere. They are a development of the Jewish faith and are rejected by that faith. That is pretty hard to explain to the pagans to whom they preached Christ. Persecuted on every side, they had to just trust God to give growth to his kingdom.
And God does give growth. The Church lives on despite the persecution from the Romans, despite internal dogmatic fights and debates of the second through fifth centuries, despite the Fall of Rome and conquest of the barbarians, despite the corruption from within and outside in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, despite the onslaught of rationalists in the last two centuries, despite the clergy sex abuse scandel, despite internal attacks, despite the new attack on priests and faithful by the "holier than thous", the Church still lives on, and grows. God gives the growth. He does wonders with our feeble efforts. He turns that which is insignificant into that which is substantial.
We are members of the greatest society the world has ever seen. We are members of the Kingdom of God. We are members of the Church. No matter what the media may comment, we are part of the only truly relevant organization in the world. We give meaning to the whole purpose of existence. No matter what the media may say, the Church continues to grow. For the Lord, not people, gives the growth.
Therefore, when you are confronted with media attacks upon religion, a media, which by the way, does not represent the basic perspective of the people but tries to formulate a perspective based on its own preconceived agenda, remember the Church is forever.
And when you are confronted with those who compare the numbers of priests and priestless parishes and the numbers of Catholics to figures of fifty years ago, remember the Church is forever. It will adjust and flourish in the future just as it has in the past. And it will grow, for God gives it growth.
Therefore, when you are confronted with immorality on all sides, when you are convinced that the world is coming to an end because so many people are behaving so poorly, because you, as we all, are often inclined to join them, do not despair, the church not only lives on through the muddle and the mire, it actually grows. You and I also grow as long as we do everything we can to stay united to the Church. For in the face of turmoil, outside us and within us, God gives his Church growth. And you and I, right here, St. Ignatius of Antioch Parish, although a small unit, are still the Church.
As St. Paul tells the Corinthians in today's second reading: we walk by faith, not by sight. May we always stay united to Church so God might work the miracle of His growth through us.