Why does it seem that Jesus blesses some people more than others? A similar question is asked in the Gospel by the disciples, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Jesus speaks to the crowds using metaphors but only gives the explanation to the disciples—why?
[Listen to Fr. Justin’s homily here.]
[Watch Fr. Justin’s homily delivery here.]
Some of us might not be receiving many blessings. We’re struggling spiritually: we’re not praying well, aren’t enthusiastic about evangelization, feel like we’re stuck in the same sins, or we’re not determined to grow spiritually. But Jesus wants us to receive blessings! Now that we’re in the Sabbath Summer, a time to rest in God and be renewed, the Gospel will teach us how to receive abundant blessings.
The context for the Gospel is this: Jesus had given His famous Sermon on the Mount, which was a clear spiritual and moral teaching and addressed to everyone (Mt 5-7). He then worked nine miracles and taught about discipleship, that is, following Him (Mt 8-10). After this, however, there was opposition to Him, and it started to become clear who was open to Jesus and who wasn’t. Because of this, Jesus started changing His style of teaching to wake people up. He gives today’s teaching, The Parable of the Sower, and parables are metaphors designed to teach some truth, but aren’t entirely clear in their meaning.
Right after this, it says, “Then the disciples came and asked Jesus, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’” (Mt 13:10). They perceive something’s different here: Jesus had used a few parables before, but now He gives eight of them in a row! “He answered, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away” (Mt 13:11-12).
What does this mean, ‘To those who have, more will be given… but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away’? The answer is: openness, faith, and commitment. 1) To those who are open to Jesus, they receive more. But to those who are closed to Him, they receive nothing.
2) I can’t remember where I heard it, but faith in Jesus is like moving from outside a church to inside. Outside a church, what do stained-glass windows look like? Dark and just a bunch of metal rods welded together. But, if we have faith and move inside the church, then we can see all the colours, the whole picture. Those who have faith always receive more, while those who don’t, receive few blessings.
Have you ever noticed that in your life: When you try to understand something God teaches, then eventually it makes sense? But when you’re resistant, it never makes sense. So remember, faith is not only a gift from God, but it’s also a choice.
3) If we make a commitment to Jesus, then we always stay close to Him and receive blessings. But those who never commit themselves to Him stay away and so receive nothing.
Jesus continues: “The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’” This sounds very harsh, but He then quotes the prophet Isaiah, where the people reject God and He punishes them by hardening their hearts. The idea is: If you people don’t want me in your life and you’re indifferent and want to push me away, then I respect your choice.
Here are three truths about faith that will help us receive more blessings, and these truths are based on today’s parable of seed falling either on the path, on rocky ground, or among thorns. If we recommit ourselves to these three truths, get ready for lots of blessings! Much of this is a deliberate repetition because people come to me all the time with the same problems of faith, and I think, “We talk about this every year, and you’ve heard these ideas for six years.” For those of you who have heard this before, please start living it, otherwise, you’ll be falling into the same traps over and over, and you need to hear that this is your responsibility; you’re struggling primarily because of yourself. It’s not God’s fault, not other people’s, and not because of your situation.
First Truth: The path. Seed falling on the path means “when anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart” (Mt 13:19). Do we understand what the kingdom is about? The kingdom is about God’s family. Jesus came to rebuild the family of God with all of us. And families are built on covenants, like marriage and adoption. And so, if we understand that God has made with us a covenant that He won’t take back, and that we’re invited to enter that covenant and commit to Him for life, then no one can ever take away our faith!
You know how people say, “I think I’m losing my faith”? We might feel that our faith has weakened since the pandemic started. But no one can take away our faith if it’s a covenant, a lifelong commitment to Jesus.
We might hear people tell us that they lost their faith or stopped practicing it. The truth is: They stopped loving Jesus. (Don’t let this happen to you.) They gave up their faith in Him. When things got tough, they got lazy. This might be difficult to hear, but we need to face the truth, and some of us need to hear it this way to wake us up.
Second Truth: Rocky ground. “This is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away” (Mt 13:20-21). This metaphor has to do with people’s right and wrong expectations of Jesus. When we commit our lives to Jesus and make Him the centre of our lives, we hope it makes our lives better—that’s reasonable. But, sometimes our expectations are unrealistic. We expect Him to make sure we always have a good job, and, if possible, the job we want; we think He’ll stop pandemics. We don’t verbalize it, but we’re shocked when our life is hard. “What? Why is this happening? I think I’m losing my faith.” But what did you expect? A year ago, you were so happy to be following God, but now you’re falling away because life is hard.
This is one of the dividing lines between mature Christians and immature Christians. Mature Christians know that God didn’t promise an easy life, didn’t promise that we’d get the right job, that we’d get into the right school program. Immature Christians turn away from loving Jesus because they thought following Him meant He’d make life easier. Jesus doesn’t make life easier, but He does make it better. He doesn’t always give us instant gratification, but a peace which is more satisfying.
Third Truth: Thorns. “This is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing” (Mt 13:22). Busyness in life and pursuing success apart from God will choke what He’s trying to do. He’s trying to bless us with deeper levels of happiness, but we’re concentrating only on the superficial human level.
When we’re at this level, we typically focus on our feelings. We ask why we don’t feel close to God, why we don’t feel His presence, and why, when we pray, it’s not like it used to be. It’s good to take stock of how we’re feeling. But, the question is not, do we feel close to God, but are we close to God?
The mediaeval times were called the age of faith, then there was the so-called age of reason, and now we’re in the age of feelings (See this video by Prof. Robert George on Morality and Neo-Gnosticism). If we don’t feel close to God, then something’s wrong—that’s not true. Many who are close to God don’t feel close to Him. I don’t feel His presence all the time—that’s normal.
People who love are close to Him. St. John tells us that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8), so, whenever we choose to love, that means God’s in our hearts and souls. But when we’re selfish and lazy we’re far from Him. Just as in every relationship, feelings come and go, and so they’re secondary. If we choose to love God, that will mean that we are close to Him, and then eventually we’ll feel close to Him.
The Sabbath Summer is a time for self-reflection. Which of the three truths of faith would help you most to grow in faith? 1) Faith means a covenant, a lifelong commitment on our part, and that can never be snatched away. 2) Faith means having the right expectations concerning Jesus. 3) Faith means not focusing on feeling close to God, but on being close to God. We have time today during Mass to make a greater commitment to Jesus, to say, “Jesus, I’m going to change my expectations. I’m not going to focus mainly on feeling close to You, but on love.”
Jesus wants everyone to receive His blessings! I told you four years ago about Janet Moylan, who watched her 10-year old daughter, Jenni, get pulled out into the ocean by a tidal wave, and then watched her husband, Tim, go in to rescue her, but then both drowned. Her world had collapsed in a moment. But when I read her story again, I noticed how many times she said she was blessed. Right after the deaths, she knew she was filled with the Holy Spirit because she had the strength to comfort her son. She said it was a blessing to have family with her; she was comforted by others’ prayers; at the funeral, she said, “God did not let me down”; one year later, she wrote, “As always, God was very good to me… He blessed me with a dream that gave me great comfort.”
How did she get to that level of faith? “Several months after Tim and Jenni died, I heard Dr. James Dobson on the radio talking about how people deal with tragedy… Dr. Dobson pointed out that you either choose God or despair. I thought emphatically that I had chosen God and that I would continue to do so” (Jeff Cavins & Matthew Pinto, Amazing Grace for Those Who Suffer, 28). And she expressed that choice by prayer, particularly the Rosary, reading the Bible and other spiritual books, secular novels having lost their appeal. When Eucharistic adoration started up in her parish, she signed up for an hour a week.
Why does Jesus seem to bless some people more than others? Because some people are more open, have made a choice of faith, and are more committed.