Seeds and ‘Switching Off’: Jesus’ challenge for modern-day disciples

Catholic media lovers have a profound message to hear this Sunday.

The Gospel

We’ve reached the fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time. In the Gospel, Jesus preaches a peculiar—but familiar—parable: that of the sower and the seeds. You can read it here. We good Catholics know the gist of this story: the sower’s seeds land upon different types of terrain, which determine whether or not they grow and produce fruit.

When questioned, the Rabbi assures his followers:

This is why I speak to them in parables, because
they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.

Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:
You shall indeed hear but not understand,
you shall indeed look but never see.
Gross is the heart of this people,
they will hardly hear with their ears,
they have closed their eyes,
lest they see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their hearts and be converted,
and I heal them.

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see,
and your ears, because they hear.”

You and I are “blessed,” because we are Catholic. We have been changed by what we have seen and heard. We have heard, listened, and understood.

Modern-Day Sowing

For those of us who involve ourselves in Catholic media, this message from Jesus is especially pertinent. Why? We leave this answer to the godfather of media theory, Marshall McLuhan, a convert to Catholicism. In an interview with Fr. Patrick Peyton, McLuhan described the relationship between media and conversion. Call it a modern-day seed parable:

St. Paul’s remark that “faith comes by hearing” would seem to have something to do with this resonance of the Word — the Divine Word resonating in the human heart is a kind of interface which changes the human heart and tunes it in a totally new way.

[…] The world of resonance requires a complete involvement and consent on the part of the listener.

However, we can ‘switch off.’ Even to resonance we can ‘turn off.’ Many people, of course, have developed this power in the Electric Age: they are so embellished or so flooded with data, with information, that they tend to protect themselves by ‘switch off.’ Just turning themselves off, going numb, becoming some sort of somnambulistic modules and unaware, really, of themselves or the world they live in, not relating, and so on.

I suppose it’s possible to have little faith—the Scriptures even mention it: “O ye of little faith”—it seems to be directed there to people who’ve ‘switched off,’ who just reject the sound and the Word. St. Paul’s remark that “faith comes by hearing” rather than by any visual manifestation suggests how total it is. It was the old philosophers who pointed out that the world of resonance—acoustic space—is a complete sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose margin is nowhere. In the world of faith, you have that experience of being always at the center, and the center is everywhere, and the margins are nowhere.

There are so many of us today who allow ourselves to ‘switch off.’ We let the Word of God fall on rough terrain, and it’s gone. We’re so used to scanning hundreds of blog entries, tweets, and Facebook posts that we miss all the seeds. We don’t allow ourselves to be touched by God’s work in others’ lives, nor do we allow ourselves to see those bloggers, tweeps, and Facebook friends as soil in need of TLC.

Our Challenge

Notice that Jesus’ words are not simply an observation or factual statement, but a challenge to his followers: BLESSED ARE YOUR EYES AND EARS!

In other words: “You guys have been given the grace to understand the mysteries of faith! You have a tremendous responsibility!” Earlier in the gospel, Jesus said that he needs “more laborers for the harvest.” God is sowing seed like crazy, and He wants to harvest abundantly!!!

Hearing the Divine Word can be, as McLuhan says, completely involving and transformative. The Lord God says through Isaiah that His Word can convert and heal us—if only we listen and prepare the soil of our souls!

Takeaways

1. Fight against the tendency to ‘switch off’ to those around us, whom God is trying to touch.

2. Pray fervently and often to become a ‘master gardener’ and learn how to till the soil of the souls around you.

3. Don’t worry so much about sowing those seeds. (“Gee, how are we going to spread the Catholic faith?”) Jesus said, “Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say.” Marshall McLuhan is famous for declaring that content is not so important as the medium is important. God provides us with the medium/message: Christ. Through the Holy Spirit, God sows the seed of the Word in souls. He needs a strong support staff. He needs you to learn how to work with that soil. With you, He can clear away the thorns and the rocks. With you, He can transplant seeds to secure ground. He will help you nurture and till the soil. You are not the Star Sower; you are a laborer.

4. Take time daily to realize how precious a gift you’ve been given: knowledge of God’s Kingdom.

5. Consent to letting the Divine Word resonate in you.

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