During a friendly chat a couple of weeks ago, I learnt how farmers and fishermen used to form pretty separate communities in the Buckie area. Quite likely I personally wouldn’t have been able to share much common ground with either community – my knowledge regarding farming or fishing is pretty much next to nothing. Am I uniquely ignorant in that respect? I don’t think so. As a society, we are far more distanced from food production these days than we used to be; so distant are we that many children genuinely don’t know how food is produced. As far as they are concerned, food just comes straight from supermarkets. I wonder how clear to us adults is the meaning of the parable from today’s gospel? A man walking along a ploughed field and planting seeds by casting them around him is an ancient, outmoded practice. Even with my own massively limited knowledge I know that today’s farmers use specially designed machinery, so that each individual seed is planted in the intended spot in the field, with virtually no waste or loss.
To make things more complicated, there’s a new trend in farming. Down through the centuries and up to the present-day, the belief that ploughing a field helps to increase the yield of the crop has been strongly held. Nowadays, however, increasing numbers of farmers are abandoning traditional ploughing. The trick with this new agricultural system is to make sure that absolutely no bare soil is exposed during the farming year. I’m in no position to pass any form of judgment on that. What I’m trying to say is that the contexts of what we read in the Bible are becoming less and less easy for modern people to understand and therefore less and less accessible to us. The examples, images, parables and references made by Jesus and by any other biblical characters are harder for us to understand, because they are not necessarily part of our everyday modern experience. Perhaps that’s why, although many of us still have a copy of the Good Book at home, most of the time it tends to gather dust on the bookshelf.
And here, today’s gospel can come in handy. In the parable, Jesus compares the seed cast around by the sower to the word of God, falling on different patches of ground. Most of the seed is wasted due to unfavourable ground conditions; only those seeds that have fallen on the tended ground yield a good crop. In Jesus’ times – and many centuries later – tending a field was really hard work, carried out either solely by manual labour or with the use of domesticated animals. Jesus compares that particular effort to that required if we want to hear, to listen, to understand and to follow God. For many Christians, their faith seems to be a “once-acquired, never-spent” part of their lives; something that doesn’t demand of them an effort to hold on to it or to develop it. In fact, over the years the religious dimension of their lives seems to diminish. What remains for them is at best a faint sense of duty, at worst the almost complete disappearance of religious references within their cultural environment.
Faith is like love. It requires personal effort, engagement, commitment and so on. Faith, like love, will imperceptibly, slowly but surely cool and evaporate if not cared for and nurtured. I compare faith to love because, in fact, faith is my response to the love God offers to me. Faith is love returned as the acceptance of such a mind-blowing gift from God. Although it’s summer (apparently), this time is as good as any other to start tending the field of your heart and mind in order to be ready to receive and accept whatever God is offering you. Don’t be overwhelmed by the size of the field that has to be ploughed; just make a start on doing it. How? Perhaps by reading on the beach a book that helps to understand your faith?