The readings this Sunday are some of my very favorite of all time: the image of the Word as a seed, planted in the soil of our lives, that will not be moved until it brings forth fruit. The Sower planting his seed in all kinds of soil, and looking for the rich soil, where His seeds will bear fruit. Every time they come around, at different seasons of my life, they bring forth new, deeper layers of reflection in me. Sometimes, it is the aspect of time, inherent in these images: seeds do not grow up overnight. The Lord’s promise that His Word shall not return void also contains within it a call to us: a call to patience, to an embrace of the slow unfolding of time that the seed requires naturally in order to not return void. A natural seed can take up to a year, a whole season, the long, slow, cold, painful waiting of winter before the tiny green sapling pierces its way through the earth. And a tree can take half a lifetime before it bears fruit. The seed of Christ buried in us can sometimes take the long, slow, cold and painful stretch of years, sometimes our whole lifetime, before we can see the tiny green sprout breaking through. I always need this reminder about time. Because it helps me pay attention, then, and be aware of the process: enter into the hidden work of the seed’s growing, while it is still buried from view deep within me.
But this time, it is not about time that I am thinking of: it is about the relationship between the seed and the soil: the mutual dependence of the seed on the soil, and of the soil on the seed. Yes, soil must grow too. It must change, it must be cultivated. Christ’s parable about the seed falling on all kinds of soil takes into account that rich soil is not an accident: it must be created. And how is soil made rich? By simultaneously receiving the nutrients of the mature plants it bears. The fruit from the grown trees in turn disintegrates back into the soil, replenishing it to bear more plants. This is what compost is for, and why farmers use the byproducts of their produce to give back to the soil.
I’m finding that the fabric of our relationships in the Body of Christ, the communion between people’s lives, is profoundly like this relationship of soil and seed. Because we are made in the image of a God Who is communion, we are incapable of living anything in isolation. Being human means being in communion, and being baptized only deepens the unity of our lives with the story, the unfolding, and the salvation of every other life. The Divine Gardener tears through, breaks open, wrenches wide the soil of our hearts in order to plant the seeds of others’ lives, of their sufferings and needs, that the soil of my life might bear fruit for them. The seeds entrusted to my life’s soil depend on my being torn open, on the sacrifice of the life of this soil, for the life of the seed. I think this is what Paul meant when he said, “In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, the Church,” (Col 1:24). The flesh of each of our lives has been endowed with the rich soil of Christ’s sacrifice, such that He lives out in our sufferings the fruit of His own offering, and gives our offerings the capacity to bring growth to the seeds of the hearts entrusted to our portion of soil.
Love, a desire for the good of another, is something given, planted in us like the seed, and it requires “laying down our life” just as it requires tearing open the soil for planting, just as the grain of wheat must fall to the ground and die in order to bear fruit. He plants this seed, He entrusts these loves to us to bring forth fruit for others. I feel it as tangibly as if I could see it with my bodily eyes: every act of my letting go, my sacrifice, my surrender is taken up in His hands and transformed into layers of fortification for the freedom, the healing, the life He is trying to give this person, as well as the force to break down the walls, the barriers in His way in their lives. Every time I consent, receive, bear a suffering or sacrifice in my own life, it is a surrender, a giving way before His hands as He pulls open my soil: it is a space given for Him to plant life deeper in other souls. And the miracle of this is that every piercing, turning over, digging deep into my soil is simultaneously forming me. Because the Gardener never does just one thing: our lives are not merely used instrumentally for the good of another, but this very act of surrender, giving ourselves to bear fruit for another is also the very same act that perfects, that forms, and completes us. Because the seed planted in me does not merely serve the purpose of producing fruit: it bears the very nutrients that the soil of my life needs to be full, to reach it’s own completion. And this beautiful growth of life only happens insofar as I consent to and allow this seed to be buried in me; to the degree to which I allow myself to be torn open, to be wounded for this seed.
And the beauty is multi-layered. For simultaneously, of course, the seed of my life is also being carried in others’ soil, is being nourished and borne by the offering, the suffering of others. There are people that I will be able to look in the eyes, after this life, with tears in my own and my heart overwhelmed, and thank them; say to them, “You were a part of saving my life, simply by your own living: because He chose you, He used you to be one of those planted in my soil. And therefore, the fruits and grace of your growing, of your life, through the dying it required of me, is what brought me to salvation.”
All of us have been made with the capacity to live this drama, if we allow Him to work it in us, if we consent to bear our part in this script, All of us have those He is asking us to be broken open for; those He is allowing to be our salvation through the call to sacrifice for them, as well as those who are in turn sacrificing for us, planted in their soil. I think all of us are both plants and soil: we are both borne, and bearing. And it is the good kind of pain: the ache and weariness after a long day of labor, or exercise, in which our whole body complains with the strain, and yet feels more alive than it ever was before.