Each and every one of us descends from a long and noble line of farmers. Because they lived their lives for others, many of our parents, grandparents and those from generations long ago who passed their Christian beliefs on to us successfully contributed to the propagation of both the faith and the human species. They worked and sacrificed, allowing us to live, love and bring new generations of life into the world. We see their faces not only in ourselves, but in our children and grandchildren as they are planted, grow and flourish in the Christian life.
The agricultural metaphors used in our readings today teach us something about carrying on new generations of life. We understand the process of grafting shoots and planting trees referenced in Ezekiel. We commonly see plants growing, flourishing and bearing fruit as mentioned in the 92nd Psalm. And the time between planting the seed and awaiting the eventual harvest of crops in Mark’s gospel is no unfamiliar concept. But these are more than metaphors. They are instructions. They are admonitions. They are part of the great commission, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28: 19-20). They are lessons about passing on our faith to others.
Jesus speaks of us when he says, “The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest” (Lk 8: 8), and in teaching his disciples, “…unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (Jn 12: 24).
Among many of our ancestors were men and women who were seeds that fell on good ground and grains of wheat that died and produced good fruit. They took St. Paul’s words to heart. They were courageous. They often walked by faith, not by sight. Some of them did not know when they woke up one morning they would, that very day, “…leave the body and go home to the Lord…” and “…appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” Yet in their final moments they flourished, vigorous and sturdy. As their earthly lives were brought low and withered, they bloomed, majestic cedars pleasing in the eyes of the Lord. Cut down in the tenderness of either youth or advanced age, they were grafted on to our lives and those of our children who will grow to be faithful Christians like their forebears, carrying on the faith like a good strain of carefully cultivated hybrids. They were sowers and seeds, so to speak, farmers of faith as well as a bountiful harvest, outstanding in their fields.
It is an old story, passed down through the ages, yet renewed and celebrated at every Mass. Christ demonstrates the fruitfulness of his heroic self-sacrifice on the cross. And he expects us, his farmer-disciples, to do the same. Many married couples live out the four goods of marriage every day; fruitfulness, fidelity, permanence and partnership. Scores of the ordained and religious faithfully serve Christ in their various states of poverty, chastity and obedience. The single and the widowed have the opportunity to dedicate and sanctify their lives by orienting them toward the needs of others through their adherence to celibacy and their service to the Church in various corporal and spiritual works of mercy. They are all seeds that die to self daily, choosing to deny themselves, pick up their crosses and follow Christ. They are planted in good ground and yield a fruitful harvest.
What we do throughout our lives in these earthly bodies of ours eventually leads directly to our eternal recompense. For “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hb 10: 31). And yet that is the destiny of us all. In choosing to be selfless in feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and providing sustenance to the needy, we can elect to use our bodies to live the gospel in the limited and unknown amount of precious time God grants us. These small, seemingly insignificant acts of kindness are the tiny seeds we scatter that may never be deemed heroic, but nonetheless, emblematic of a Christian soul firmly “…planted in the house of the Lord…” and who “…shall flourish in the courts of our God” (Ps 92: 14). We have the gift of time now to work while the sun shines at tilling the fertile ground all around us and planting the seeds of evangelization so our graves will truly be fertile soil at the harvest.
We are to master our bodies just as we are to master our world and subject it to our wills, keeping in mind our wills should harmonize with and be dependent upon God’s holy will. As Pope St. John Paul II said in his homily in Iowa in 1979, “Every day the farmer is reminded of how much he depends upon God. From the heavens come the rain, the wind and the sunshine. They occur without the farmer’s command or control. The farmer prepares the soil, plants the seed, and cultivates the crop. But God makes it grow; he alone is the source of life.”
A mustard seed is so very tiny, yet contains within itself tremendous potential to become a living thing, a spacious dwelling and shade to protect the birds of the air from the heat of the day. It eventually grows between 6-20 feet tall with a 20-foot spread. Exceptional mustard bushes can soar to 30 feet tall under ideal conditions. A seed is a future story waiting to be shared, a mission to be accomplished, a task to be successfully completed. Like us, the seed holds within itself a mighty potential of possibility and purpose. Jesus sees possibility and purpose in us. We all have great potential to become “…planted in the house of the Lord…and “…flourish in the courts of our God” (Ps 92: 14). We sow the seed and we are the seed. We are all farmers for the Lord.