There is no limit to God’s Word

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  • June 28, 2011

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) July 10 (Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 65; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 13:1-23)

The Word of the Lord is relentless and unceasing. But this “Word” has little to do with the individual words written on a page — even in the Bible.

When we hold the lectionary aloft and say “The Word of the Lord” we must take care not to mistake the book for God’s word. This sort of confusion often leads to literal interpretations and superficial, unthinking applications of the text. The beautiful metaphor in Isaiah’s passage is far richer and deeper. The Word of God is a divine utterance — an expression of God’s will and spirit — and it ripples through the entire cosmos. Everything that reflects the nature and will of God is part of this communication. As the recent papal exhortation Verbum Domini points out, God’s Word can be expressed in creation itself, in nature and the cycle of life. It also finds expression in salvation history — the times and places when God’s guiding hand has moved humanity towards redemption.

The Word is found in personal and collective human experience, as well as in art and music. And it is not always found in religious or ecclesiastical settings. In fact, there is no limit to the ways in which the divine can express itself. But expression is merely one part of the equation. The Word is sent to do something, to accomplish the divine will, and will not rest until this is done. Despite the incredible mess that human beings make of the world the Word of God is present in countless ways at any given moment nudging, coaxing and at times pushing us towards our goal of enlightenment and union with God. If we listen carefully — with the spirit and the heart as well as the mind — we will be able to perceive God’s message for humanity and respond.

Paul feels this sense of futility and struggle very keenly, not only for him but for all of creation. But he insists that the pain and struggle is worth it when one considers what God has in store for us. The New Testament often uses the metaphor of childbirth to describe the process of transition and change. Paul employs it here to give people hope — the suffering is temporary, the joy and new life everlasting. Paul shares the view of many of the ancients that the created world and humanity were bound intimately together — both were in need of renewal and redemption. In Paul’s view, Jesus died for all of creation and not just humanity. The entire world is embraced and transformed by God’s grace.

If the Word of God is scattered so freely about, why is there not a more noticeable effect? Why do so many seem unmoved? Why are there so many things in the world that seem to be antithetical to all that is good and holy? The parable of the sower bears long and careful meditation. It teaches us that we must not look only in the immediate moment for results but long-term — the big picture. The human drama stretches throughout history and so does the tug-of-war between God and human beings. Most often we will not be around to see the results. The seed of God’s Word is scattered freely and without distinction. Many are initially enthusiastic — charismatic speakers, emotional highs and so on can sweep people up. But there are no roots — the seed is never permitted or encouraged to grow, so it does not survive. Others are more determined but when the difficulties of life come thick and fast spiritual things seem to fade into the background until the flame sputters out.

But some welcome God’s Word and take it to heart — they make it an essential part of who and what they are. They reflect on the Word, they study it, they allow it to challenge and transform them, and most of all they put it into practice throughout their daily lives. These are the people whose lives are spiritually fruitful and abundant. The difference between religious and spiritual is a rather superficial cliché but it contains an element of truth. Ideally we should be both, but too many are content with the mere externals of religious faith. We alone can choose whether God’s transforming Word will bear fruit in our lives.

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