Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Peace and blessings of the living, loving and liberating God, Jesus. Your families be blessed with health and happiness. Despite the challenge of relentless outbreak of the virus, our faith continues to sustain us. May the day of deliverance come soon.
Today’s three readings give the impression that: this Sunday is an ecological Sunday; Isaiah talks of the prosperity of a nation with the gift of nature; St Paul talks about creation waiting for the revelation of the children of God. The Gospel soaks us with the story of the sower who sows everywhere exposing various terrains.
Today’s gospel is a gem of a beauty in Jesus teachings.
Jesus was a lover of nature, saw God’s providence in the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. His teachings are drawn from the beautiful examples from nature. His reference to good tree and good fruit, his reference to mustard seeds, his reference to vine and branches and his comparison of God’s love for all as the sun that shines on everyone and the rain makes Jesus the cosmic Christ.
The Parable of the Sower is a magnificent metaphor for humanity.
It is an empowering tale of making every man and woman, God’s seed on earth. This parable is calling upon each one of us to give a hundredfold fruit. It is also a tale of God’s word as the seed planted in every human soul. It is also the tale of God’s Good News as the seed and our call to become evangelizers of this human family.
Reading this parable today is very significant.
This parable on this Sunday appears as COVID’s heartless march in many epicenters of the world continue. Confounded by the ferocity of the invincible enemy the virus, we draw consolation from this parable. The parable of the sower emerges as the healing palm to a world lying wounded by the virus.
The COVID virus itself is a seed of weed. A toxic weed.
The virus was like a seed, sown on innocent human beings, cultivating itself and killing thousands. In a cautionary parable of weeds and wheat, in Mathew Chapter 13: 24-30, Jesus points out the “enemy of humanity” stealthily sowing seeds of weeds among wheat
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who sowed a good seed in his field,
But while everyone was sleeping his enemy came and sowed weeds among the
Wheat and went away. When the wheat sprouted, the weeds also sprouted.
Yes. COVID is that seed of poisonous weed. The COVID weed has sprouted in millions of people, unleashing a tsunami of anxiety and death. Like the master in the parable, we wait till the harvest time, to burn the weeds of COVID.
If we return to the parable of the Sower, we see seeds fell on four different kind of land and brought four different results:
- Those seeds that fell on the wayside and got trodden and devoured by birds.
- Those seeds that fell on rocky ground and sprouted fast but died fast because of lack of moisture.
- Those seeds that fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it and choked them.
- Lastly those seeds that fell on the good ground and gave hundred-fold.
If we apply this parable to the pandemic, we are confronted with four types of responses. COVID is the seed planted by the enemy Satan. God has called to the whole humanity to sow the seed of compassion to fight the COVID weed. This weed has grown and killed more than half a million and infected 20 million people.
How did humanity and nations react?
- When the coronavirus exploded on the global scene, the first class of people who received this seed of compassion, allowed it to be trodden by selfishness, fear of the other and aversion to people affected.
- The second class of people who received the seed of compassion, did not respond because their hearts were of stone. Their hearts were like a rock without emotions and never reached out to anyone. Even leaders of rich countries allowed thousands to die. Thousands died on the altar of economy.
- The third class of people who received the seed of compassion had responded in the first days with generosity towards suffering people, but were overcome with their own concerns and forgot the poor. The increasing number of deaths and infection has no effect on them.
- The last class of people are the great health workers and pastoral workers, whose compassion was shown by their generous and selfless love and concern for those infected and dying. They have saved thousands and like the seed that fell on good soil this gallant medical professionals and pastoral “accompaniers” are witnesses to true human spirit.
We need to learn from these four types of people.
Humanity faces grave dangers to its existence. The scientists say pandemics will be more regular and more disastrous in the coming years. The world is already a sick man with three other pathogens: wealth inequality, an ever-widening income gap, and catastrophic environmental disasters.
The parable urges us to vaccinate the human family with the antidote of hope. It is a parable of hope. Humanity passes through a dark tunnel. These are bleak moments. Our harmony is disturbed. Nature reminds us what could happen if we do not have the four right relationships: with oneself, with one another, with the creator, and with creation.
Jesus came to bring the light of hope. This parable is a story about humanity and hope for the future, that no matter how bleak and harsh it gets, we can keep pushing forward provided more of us can become a good soil to receive the Word and bear fruit in our lives.
That depends on what seed we receive and what soil we provide for that seed to grow and give a hundredfold fruit. Jesus warns “A good tree gives good fruit; a bad tree gives bad fruit.” St Paul is categorical: “Whatever a man sows, this will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
What further lessons do we, as Christians, derive for our life from this parable?
We need to recognize the Sower in our life is God and his word is the seed: not wealth, not power, not the mad rush for worldly glory. We need to guard ourselves from “the enemy sowing weeds” among the wheat.
We also need to recognize the sower in the parable was not sowing just any type seed. Mark 4:14 says it unmistakably, “The sower sows the Word. Yes. It is the Word of God that needs to be planted in ourselves. Nothing else. God’s grace is the seed that helps us to know the weed from the wheat.
That brings us to the four types of Christians on whom God seeds of Good news and Grace fall. But do we give the same results? There are four types of results:
The First Group of Christians: The seeds that fall on the wayside; the wayside Christians, the window shopping Christians for whom Christ is just a Sunday morning event, an occasional ritual to be observed. Nothing touches the heart, nothing changes the behavior. They are devotees of Christ, not disciples, refusing to be challenged, never becoming disciples who are willing to carry the cross and follow him. They are trodden by selfishness and their avarice and anxiety are the birds that take away the enriching and empowering message of Christ Jesus.
The Second Group of Christians: The people with a rocky disposition. Compassion has dried out. Human suffering and brokenness do not move their heart. Jesus exhortation “be compassionate as our heavenly father is compassionate” falls on their deaf ear. Humanity does not take root. The scorching heat of inflated ego has killed God’s grace and the Good News. These are people who die at the age of thirty and get buried at the age of seventy or eighty because they have refused to live but made their bodies mobile cemeteries without love and hope.
Third Group of Christians: These are the consumeristic Christians, the prosperity Gospel false prophets, trivializing God as a “business partner”. Instead of receiving God’s seed and giving a hundredfold, they are arrogant enough to “sow seeds to God” by “planting 100 dollars to God to reap 1,000 dollars.” These Christians have almost destroyed Christianity in many parts. God’s seed that sprout in them was scorched by the ferocious growth of thorns of travesty: of turning the liberating Gospel into a lucrative Gospel of prosperity. Shameless merchants who monetize the good news for material gains.
Fourth Group of Christians: These are simple, open hearted, genuine people, who are praised by Jesus, as he thanked the Father “I praise you Father, Lord of heavens and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and the learned and revealed it to these little children.” Their openness like a child is the ground on which God’s word falls. God’s grace gives them peace, gives them meaningful relationships, they have reasons to live and reasons to die. Generosity and commitment mark their life.
They are the people grateful to God “in plenty and in poverty.” These are the people who are the living Gospel, ‘their life witness is the only Bible non-Christians can read’ (quote from Mother Teresa). They are the people praised on the judgement day for their fruits of compassion when the Lord said:
I was naked, you gave me a shirt
I was hungry, you gave me food
I was in prison you came to see me.
God’s seed of Good news, Grace and Compassion finds a receptive ground. These are the people who are praised in the words of St Irenaeus “The Glory of God is man and woman fully alive.”
From Seed to Sower:
What does this grace of being a good land on which the God’s seed of the Word, mean to us in our daily life? Jesus and his Gospel is the word planted in us. We need to move from being a devotee of Jesus, worshipping him only, towards becoming ‘disciples’ who can proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
The seed becomes the tree and the tree bears fruit. The fruit is to become the sower of God’s plan in this world. In a bleak and broken world, strangled by wars, hatred and suffocating poverty, we need to proclaim “Jesus is the way, the truth and the light”.
That is our faith.
Jesus, when he sent his disciples on a mission, the mandate he gave to his disciples was: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.”
Preaching the Gospel is not a luxury. It is the duty of every Christian.
For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast about, for this obligation has been entrusted to me. How terrible it would be for me if I didn't preach the gospel! (1 Cor 9:16)
Jesus is the answer. His incarnational, redemptive love is the only way forward in the world fragmented by fear and anxiety, pandemic and wars. But Jesus message is yet to reach thousands:
Listen to the groaning of St Paul: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (Rom 10:14).
The invisible virus has proved that humanity’s future is not in arrogance of super powers. Millions are sick, the world is ill today. Greed, war and arrogance has not allowed God’s seed to fall on good ground. Toxic trees of pandemic, poverty, inequality, oppression and starvation has grown into a jungle in this world.
Thus, the need for sowers, genuine, generous and true disciples of Jesus who can proclaim the Good News that God’s Kingdom is the answer.
And when more and more people become such sowers, we can join the symphony of Prophet Isiah singing together gratefully, saying: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, Your God reigns!” (Is 52:7).
Let us become such sowers of God’s Word in our families, in our country. May the Grace of Good health be planted in all of us.
Stay blessed, Stay safe.