Both Isaiah and the responsory psalm for the day eloquently remind us that the word of God, gone forth, does not return vacant, for it is creative of its nature, and true soil — like the human clay Jesus refers to later — responds to it abundantly and yields a fit harvest, in human terms of justice and mercy. St. Paul speaks of Creation as a whole groaning to reveal the destiny of the universe — the freedom and glory of God’s children. For the price of such creativity is high — the pain of birth. And loss, both of life and of creativity itself. As in the amplified commentary on Jesus’ simple parable, the fertile seed of God’s word, the way Creation is lavish with the gift of life, often goes to waste. Some of the Word does take root, but more seems to be scavenged, lost, or at best stunted and it soon withers. Jesus directs our attention, like Isaiah, not to the Word itself, but to us, the human soil and our readiness to receive the Word of Life and grow to bear a harvest of freedom and glory.
It is critical to ask how we’re doing The image of creation giving birth suggests that we look to the earth itself to see. Ecologists and naturalists have been warning us for decades now that human rapacity has destroyed much of the life-giving greenness of the earth. The “good soil” of creation has given way to concrete, asphalt, ravaged rain forests, spreading deserts, melting glaciers, and troubled seas. Where will the fertile seed of Creation be able to find haven and produce the bounty called Life? As eco-catastrophists rightly remind us, there is no planet B.
The other night, I caught a brief glimpse of the film, “Rio 2,” detailing the further adventures of a lovable blue parrot, in which he finds others of his species in the Amazonian rain forest. In fact, Spix’s Macaw is now extinct in the wild. Thousands of other species of birds, mammals, insects, and plants – many of them not even yet catalogued by naturalists — face the same dismal fate because of human encroachment on their habitat. As Wikipedia reminds us, Spix’s Macaw is the only known species of the genus Cyanopsitta (blue parrots). I couldn’t watch any more of film.
The sad news, the ‘badspel,’ is that our mechanistic, exploitative approach to Creation is killing off such great numbers of living species as to endanger the capacity of the planet to sustain life as we know it. The constant rise in global temperatures is more than a danger signal. It could be a planetary death knell.
Stern words, ones we should take to heart. Ours is, after all, the only planet in the universe known to have conceived and given birth to life. But bearing life is a surprisingly fragile and fallible enterprise. And so the groaning continues, and the glorious freedom of God’s children is forestalled.
But even if by conceiving greed and bringing forth injustice, we destroy ourselves and our civilization. Faith reminds us that Creation is God’s work and workshop. Humans are no more capable of ending life on earth by our own power than we are of engineering by ourselves the revelation of ultimate glory. But we are capable of what may be irreparable harm if we do not alter our way of living on a global scale.
I have said this before, but it bears repeating. Thirteen thousand millions of years ago, God spoke, and everything came to be. And the Word was with God, and nothing came to be except in the Word, and of the Word, and through the Word. All things are kept by the Word, and without the Word, nothing remains. For the Word was God. Is God. God’s word has never ceased going forth.
Some nine thousand millions of years later, earth appeared, the waters parted, and life began on this planet — perhaps only here. We simply don’t know and may never find out. Thousands of millions of years later, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Earth was reseeded with grace.
The Word of God…. seed sown in the cosmos itself, the human heart, the soil of nations and peoples. Some of it produces a bountiful harvest of justice and mercy, some little or nothing, choked by weeds of disregard, oppression, and destruction. The Word of God is no less creative for that. It is no less dynamic, no less alive. More: it gives life. And the Word not only endures, it is indelible.
Surely God could create other soil, other earth, other worlds where the Word could take better root and produce a harvest of glory ten thousand times a hundred fold. But here we are, for all we know, the only show in town, vainglorious dust, blighting the earth while straining to reach the stars. And if we do, will we not find, with Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus that “the blood of Christ streams through the universe”? For the Word remains impressed on each quark and galaxy. Even if our vision of the universe is fuzzy, like the first images received by the Hubble telescope, as the poet affirms, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God / It will flame out like shining from shook foil; / It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil / Crushed.” [Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur”]
Confirmed in that Spirit, we go on. Summoned by the Word, we endure. Intent on a future harvest of freedom and glory, we offer others the gift of life, the promise of justice and mercy. Subjected to suffer with all of creation the pangs of that great and prolonged birthing, we nevertheless rejoice at the approach of the Realm of God’ glory.