What Kind of Ground Am I?
by Fr. Peregrine Fletcher, O.Praem.
When we see people staring at ground, we may be tempted to think they’re loitering, just wasting time—like they need some work to do. But today our Lord turns all of our attention to the ground to see what’s happening there. He points out, in particular, the different kinds of ground we see: the hardened path, the rocky ground, the growing thorns, and the rich soil. To the Lord, it’s crucial that we understand this parable. He explains it in detail, thus making it—even for those uninterested in agricultural imagery—suddenly very personal and we find ourselves asking: “what kind of ground am I?”
Likening us to the ground is a comparison charged with ancient meaning, reaching back even to our origin. Look at the ground of Eden before the Fall, before man was created: “when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb had yet sprung up…and there was no man to till it” says Genesis; when God takes “the dust of the ground” and forms man, who He then places “in the Garden of Eden to till and keep it.” From the ground and for the ground man was made; so the question prompted by today’s parable—“what kind of ground am I?”—is surprisingly suitable.
Now look at the ground of Eden after the Fall, and what do you see? That not only man, but also the ground receives a share in the curse: “Cursed is the ground because of you,” says the Lord, “thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you and you shall eat the plants of the field…till you return to the ground.” The cursed man must now till cursed ground only to return to the ground again. Is there any wonder why, when we look at the ground of today’s parable, that the thorns are still growing there—that the ground is hardened and rocky?
In light of the ancient curse upon the ground, the parable of the Sower reveals something of the absolute generosity of God who, so long ago, created seeds in the first place, planted Eden Himself and there formed man to care for it; man who then betrayed Him there. Today’s gospel shows the breathtaking reality that God is still willing to plant and to sew, even in cursed ground. His generosity is again magnified when He speaks of what He’s going to sew; something far different than the seeds which came before. In Eden, God told Adam: “I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of the earth…” But now the Sower comes with a heavenly seed: “The seed is the word of God,” says the Gospel—salvation from the curse of Eden.
We indeed are the soil, the ground for the seed of this word. And in the beginning, did not call Himself the Word? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Of all the seeds of Eden, who could have fathomed that most beautiful, life-giving seed of all was God Himself, a divine seed one day to be sown in our hearts, undoing the ancient curse and making Himself grow within us. Oh the goodness of God who looked upon punished mankind walking out of Eden to till and sow in cursed ground, knowing full well the remedy He would sow: Himself sown within them.
No wonder how, in rich soul, the seed grows up bearing thirty, sixty and a hundredfold. It’s more than worthwhile for us to purify the hardened, rocky ground, the thorns and thistles that have afflicted our soil for so long; how much good can grow from a heart bearing the Word of God. St Angela Merici says that “a good tree, that is, a good heart enflamed with charity, can do nothing but good and holy works.” The hardened ground, the rocks and thorns may indeed soil the soil—preventing this good from growing—but these are not essential parts of the ground, which God created and can restore.
Brothers and Sisters, perhaps the Lord is asking us to focus on the ground because He’s been focused on it for long while. We’re all more connected to the ground than we may like to consider; but, after all, the ground is His—it always has been, since the beginning. And when our bodies return to the ground, they do so as the bodies of those who carried God within them, bodies which will rise again to the new Eden Eternal (a worthy place is the Christian Sepulcher!). So while we can’t always presume that people staring at the ground are in deep contemplation of their origin or their destiny, still, perhaps staring at the ground from time to time could be more helpful than we realize.
Queen Esther was a uniquely pleasing person to behold. We hear this repeatedly throughout her story and, ultimately, are told that she “found grace and favor in the eyes of all who saw her.”
The first Sunday of Lent offers one of the shortest texts for a Gospel in the whole liturgical year. It is only sixty-four words. St. Mark’s account of the Temptation in the Desert takes just two verses and is about as succinct as one can be. Now, I am not the evangelist Mark. So don’t expect a short sermon. Settle in. And listen in.
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