When we walk through the fields these days, we see the almost ripe grain that will soon be harvested. For Jesus the growth of the grain is an image for the Word of God. It is sown and, depending on the nature of the soil, produces no or rich fruit.
Faith courses, first communion catechesis, confirmation classes: pastoral workers make innumerable attempts to motivate children, adolescents and adults for the faith. But the results have already made some people discouraged. Why all the effort? Why am I doing this? So people often ask resignedly. Today’s gospel may give an answer. Everyone who works in pastoral care, especially in youth work, must keep in mind: I am only the sower who can try to do his work conscientiously and convincingly. My job is to choose the right time for sowing. What will become of it is not in my hands. I’m not responsible for the “soil” that is available to me. We also have to state that God doesn’t change the soil by force. He respects the freedom of man.
One could of course ask why the sower should not look better at the soil in which he sows in order to avoid the path, the patches of rock or the thorns, because failure is, so to speak, preprogrammed?
God’s Word goes out to everyone. Besides, in the area of human conscience it’s not easy to distinguish the different types of soil. The diversity of the soul’s “soil quality” is sometimes shown in the form of quicksand. The sower should take into account that there are different times and zones in human soul, that nobody always has good soil. Everyone has moments in which the hard path, the rock and the thorns prevail. But the sower also believes that everyone can cultivate and change the soil of his soul.
There can often be surprises in one direction or another. There are believing parents who are sad that their children, for whom they were such a good example, no longer go to church. And there are parents who didn’t bring their children to the church and have to admit, on the day of the ordination of their son: “I would never have thought that’s possible!”.
We don’t know what will become of our seeds, whether they will wither or bloom, whether they will survive or be scorched. The parable of the sower can only give us courage: against all resistance and apparent failures we Christians, like the sower, have to fulfil our task: to bring God’s word to people without always being concerned about quick success. We can confidently put it in the hands of God. Three quarters of the seeds in today’s gospel perished. But the last quarter bore rich fruit: some thirty, some sixty, some a hundredfold. The work of the sower was not in vain…
Today’s gospel speaks about a “yoke”. Most people know what that is, even if fewer and fewer people have ever seen one. It is a wooden beam normally used between a pair of oxen or other animals to enable them to pull together on a load when working in pairs, as oxen usually do; some yokes are fitted to individual animals. So the yoke is a heavy instrument. When we say, metaphorically, that a yoke is imposed on man, it means great hardship.
The word yoke occurs more often in the Bible, but mostly in a figurative sense. Above all it is the enemies who put a heavy yoke on the people of Israel, and the prophets promise that God will break this yoke. In the wisdom literature, the yoke also appears as an image for the hardships of human life: “A hard lot has been created for human beings, a heavy yoke lies on the children of Adam from the day they come out of their mother’s womb, till the day they return to the mother of them all..” (Sirach 40: 1)
Jesus wants us to take his yoke and learn from him. What is the yoke that Jesus wants to put on us? Are his instructions, for example in the Sermon on the Mount, not difficult enough? A “friendly” yoke, a “light” burden: these are paradoxical, even absurd expressions.
“Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.” Jesus calls for a rest which strengthens us to live. It is a fruitful rest. His message doesn’t want to burden us and doesn’t frighten us because the word “gospel” doesn’t mean “threatening message” but “good news”.
Pope Francis never tires of preaching the gospel as a constructive and joyful message. His encyclical “Evangelii gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel) is permeated with this idea. And he never tires of opposing God’s Mercy to legal justice which still exists in the Church. His Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris laetitia” (The Joy of Love) also gives hope to those who fail to fulfil every commandment to the last. For example, with regard to the people who fail in fulfilling the objective ideal of marriage he says: “Individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the Church’s praxis in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage. Naturally, every effort should be made to encourage the development of an enlightened conscience, formed and guided by the responsible and serious discernment of one’s pastor, and to encourage an ever greater trust in God’s grace. Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal. In any event, let us recall that this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized.” (Amoris laetitia 303) Pope Francis tries to lead us to Jesus, who tells us today: “I will give you relief, come to me! What I say to you sets you free.”
God is praised by Jesus because he is understood by ordinary people who are not so skilled. It is precisely to those people that Jesus wants to give real knowledge of God. They should recognize God as the one who is mild and humble of heart, who lightens the burden of their lives and gives them rest.
The wise and clever are in contrast to the “little ones”. We don’t have to be taught and literate, we don’t have to be a master of religious life to understand and recognize God. Christianity is not a teaching structure of dogmas and regulations but an encounter with Jesus Christ. Not with a great and powerful but with someone who is gentle, mild and humble in heart. We should learn from Jesus and be gentle and humble ourselves like him. Then it’s a big deal to be “a little one.”