Christmas is not so far behind us that we have forgotten its most familiar phrases. One of these includes the Latin words "bonae voluntatis," or "of good will." I think that most of us, and most of the people we deal with, are people of good will. And so when Jesus's parable of the sower in today's Gospel refers to God's word falling on stony ground, I like to think that that does not apply to many.
But, wow, does Jesus know his people! He speaks, too, of the word falling upon thorny ground, and that certainly is the kind of ground we occupy! The brambles, the nettles, the sand burrs and loco-weed and vines that challenge the good crops we want seem inescapable.
For most of us, the truly wicked who reject every possible good in society are rare. But at every hour of our day, and every day of our week, the radio, the television, newspapers, magazines, and billboards tell us, "Buy this!," "You must have that!," "Get it before the other guy does -- and get more!" Everything in our culture seems to be urging us to put pleasure and power, status and ego ahead of what really matters in God's plan. Even for those of good will, the holiest of seasons and the weeks following still seem to be crowded with weedy, thorny messages. The daily news prompts us to see pride, avarice, lust, envy, anger, gluttony and sloth as both universal and justifiable. We want revenge against the enemies of our nations and our neighborhoods. It's considered normal to think that there is satisfaction in excess, whether it is in sex or possessions or coarseness or violence.
This environment is the thorny soil God's word falls upon. Today's Gospel, then, is a call to go beyond that environment, and seek for ourselves, even demand for ourselves an environment cleared of those thorns, so that the good seed can sprout and flourish.
The readings from Samuel and the psalms suggest the attitudes we should take when the seeds have been sown. In both readings God has promised His people that he would be with them forever. The Israelites built for Him a temple in Jerusalem, and true, it has been destroyed. In or near my own city in this month fire destroyed buildings and broke the hearts of many people who believed that their efforts in building were evidence of individuals' and societies good will. With some living on the rocky ground, and more of us living amongst the thorns, it isn't always easy to believe that the good seed is taking root and flourishing.
But look -- repeated in today's readings is the word "forever." It is that word that consoles me despite the loss of the Temple, or of a community's or a family's treasures. Our losses are not permanent, we need not choose to fall victim to the thorns of illusion and vice. Why? Because God will care for us forever -- and "forever" is just beginning.
By Thomas A. Kuhlman