July 10, 2011 - Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Is it not a little too convenient how Jesus has such perfect parables? He always seems to find the exact metaphor he needs in nature. When we use analogies, they only go so far; eventually our analogies break down, but not Jesus! The truth of his analogies goes all the way from the surface similarities to deep wisdom. The further we consider them, the more we see.

Of course, he kind of cheated. We have to take the world as a given and then try to make an analogy, whereas his analogies preceded the world. When Jesus says that the word of God is like a seed which is sown in a field, we should remember that he is the one who invented the idea of seeds. The analogy is not really his words but the seeds themselves.

When we consider creation, we probably think of the universe first, then the earth, then the plants and animals, last we see humanity living among the rest. As if God made the whole universe and everything in it and then, as an afterthought, created humans. That is the order things were made in, even according to Genesis, but the order things happen in time is not the same as the order of intention.

Intention is a very important concept. We all understand it; it is basic to getting through life. If you see someone go get out some bread and peanut butter and put the peanut butter on the bread and then put the other piece of bread on top and then eat it, you would say that their intention, the whole time, was to eat a peanut butter sandwich, even though that is the last thing they did. If you did not understand intention, you would think that they got the bread and peanut butter for no particular reason, spread the peanut butter on the bread for no particular reason, put the other piece of bread on top for no particular reason, and then noticed that they had a peanut butter sandwich and decided to eat it.

Everything we do can be traced to intention. When you woke up this morning, you would never have gotten out of bed unless you had some reason to do so. Yet when we think of God and the creation of the universe, we tend to be very simplistic and imagine that what exists exists for no particular reason. Every scientific discovery reveals to us the mind of God. All life depends on water, and we happen to live on a planet covered in water. This is not a coincidence.

If we think of creation with respect to intention, we think first of humans. We do not even need to think specifically what kind of bodies the humans will have, just that there are humans. Next we think about what kind of universe should be created for them to live in? Should it be big or small? Should they breathe air? Should they drink water? Do they need to eat? Should they live underwater? Should there be other animals?

God had to answer all these questions and a trillion more when he created us, and his answers were not chosen at random. Every single part of creation, from duck-billed platypodes to the law of gravity was designed for us. All the stars in the sky, so far away that we could never visit them between now and the end of the world, each one millions of times larger than our planet, exist, in part, so that we have a beautiful sky to look at each night.

The universe proclaims the glory of God and the earth reveals the work of his hands. Day after day takes up this story, and night after night make known this message. No speech, no word, no voice is heard, yet the message extends through all the earth, up to the very border of the universe. And what is this message? First of all the universe is saying, “God made us”, but each part is also telling us some idea that God wanted to get across. The Bible is God’s word expressed through human authors. All of creation is God’s word expressed directly. The languages of the Bible are Hebrew and Greek. The languages of creation are seeds growing into plants, water falling from the sky, lions roaring, birds singing, stars burning, and rocks holding steady under our feet.

So when God says, in our first reading, “Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be”, he is telling us that when he invented rain, and the whole water cycle, he meant it as a symbol for us about how grace comes down from heaven, does its work here, and then goes back up to heaven.

So when Jesus says, in our Gospel, that the preached Word of God is like a farmer planting grain, he is telling us that when he invented seeds and decided that that is where food would come from and how they would grow into plants and how they need proper soil and growing conditions, he meant it all as a symbol for us about how we need to be good soil so that the Word of God can grow in us into a plant with strong roots and lots of fruit.

Creation looks different when we look at it and try to see the intention of God. All of creation stands open like a book. It is a symbol of God’s plan for us. It is a symbol in its entirety and in every tiny part. In this way, science is ultimately a religious act. When the first Russian cosmonaut went up into space, he announced, laughing, that he did not find God up there, which was unfortunate, since he could have. Every scientist who comes to their work with faith in God, can find God in whatever subject they are studying, whether protons or protists.

“All creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God”, because all creation exists for the sake of those children of God. Fourteen billion years of creation come down to this moment. All of creation is like a mother, St. Paul tells us, and the fourteen billion years are like the pregnancy. Now we have reached the moment of labor pains, and soon she will give birth, not to one person but to all those who will live forever in heaven.

The reason for the existence of the universe is to produce the children of God, and we human beings alone in all the universe can choose whether to cooperate in that task, since it we who are, potentially, going to be the children of God. The rest of creation praises and reveals God naturally, but the children are free to do as they please. We can either take our place in this symphony and be born at the end of time into eternal life, so that this life is only to us then what our time in our mother’s womb is to us now, or not.

We also have the option to become so obsessed with the pleasures of this life and the goals of this life that we forget the point of this life. The universe will go on toward God’s intention; the children of God will be born according to plan, but we will be left behind, turned in on ourselves, like a person making a sandwich who gets obsessed with spreading the peanut butter and never gets around to eating lunch. We have that option. We could choose that. Why would we?