Seeds of the Gospel

A sower went out to sow.

–Matthew 13:3–

              Seeds come in many different varieties.  I have here, ladies and gentlemen, a bag of sesame seeds.  I love them sprinkled on a bagel, but they can sure be annoying.  Whenever I eat a sesame seed bagel I usually get one or two of the little buggers caught between my teeth.  I’ve been using a lot of dental floss here of late.

              In our Gospel reading today, Jesus says that the Word of God, the Gospel message, is often like seed.  Sometimes, quite frankly, the seeds of the Gospel can be downright irritating.  My friend Maryellen tells this story:

              Many years ago in the 1980s, my husband Bob and I got all caught up in money.  We were making it hand over fist and living the life of Riley.  Yes, we were attending Mass, but we were only going through the motions.  We lived only for ourselves and not for Christ.

               Now all this time I kept getting these annoying phone calls over and over again.  The caller would ask to speak to Faith.  I soon learned why.  Our phone exchange in Quakertown is 538.  The caller meant to dial 536.  So I kept getting these misdialed calls for Faith.  I would respond by saying, “There’s no Faith here.”

               Finally, after dozens of these calls, the light bulb went on.  What am I saying? I asked myself.  Yes, there is no faith here.  That’s all it took.  I quit my job and shed my vain and materialistic lifestyle.  Bob got his own business, and we turned things around.

               I love the transformation and continue to learn more and more about true treasure.

               By the way, I finally did get to meet Faith.  She said she kept getting calls at her home for Maryellen and Bob.  But I doubt that her wrong number calls had any effect whatsoever on her.

            At times the seeds of the Gospel, like sesame seeds on my bagel, can be extremely irritating.

            Here, mes amis, is another kind of seed.  Consider the marvelous coconut.  The coconut, unlike the banana, is anything but eater friendly.  The benefits of fresh coconut do not come easily.  There’s a hard shell that must be cracked, and, at the very least, you’ll need a good hammer and a sturdy ice pick.  The effort, however, is all worth it.  The blessings of coconut, coconut oil, and coconut milk are too numerous to name.

            Ah, at times the seeds of the Gospel are like coconuts.  Often their blessings don’t come easily, and those who win them must pay a price.  Here is the true story of Brian Sternberg as told by Jesuit priest Father Mark Link:

In 1963 Brian Sternberg was the world’s pole vault champion.  One night he came down on the edge of a trampoline and was totally paralyzed.  He became bitter.  But faith worked a remarkable transformation in him.  Five years later Brian was carried onto a stage.  His skinny arms and legs dangled like those of a rag doll over the arms of Wes Wilmer, a big football player.  Propping Brian up in a chair, Wes put a mike to his mouth.  In a soft voice, Brian spoke to a convention of athletes:  “My friends…I pray to God that what has happened to me will never happen to one of you….  I pray to God that you will never know the pain that I live with daily….  Unless, my friends, that’s what it takes for you to put God in the center of your life.”

Brian Sternberg died in 2013.  He lived a remarkably long life for a quadriplegic, no doubt due to his physical fitness as an athlete prior to the accident, but also due in large part to his very positive, faith-filled attitude thereafter.

            Alas!  The seeds of the Gospel are sometimes like coconuts.  Their richness is obtained only after hard-won victories. 

            Finally, some seeds can be found in the midst of sweetness.  Consider a ripe peach.  The seed in this peach can be obtained without any annoyance, without any struggle.  All one needs to do is enjoy. 

            One more story:  When my mother realized that I would be blind, she asked her doctor what to do.  The good physician gave her two bits of advice:  “First, have another baby right away so you don’t spoil this one.”  My brother John was born fourteen months after I was.  “Second, stimulate the child’s hearing by playing records for him.”  Thus Mom bought a set of eight Bible Story records that I grew to love. The stories were fully dramatized with sound effects and narrated by Leif Erickson.  There was Noah and the Ark, Joseph and His Brothers, Moses in Egypt, The Battle of Jericho, and more.   The LPs were created by Catholics, Protestants, and Jews back in 1961.  Yes, I thought The Story of Ruth was a stupid girly love story, and I was not too keen on The Birth of Christ or The Last Supper.  But I really enjoyed the rest.  For one thing, the stories, although they were adapted for children, did not sugar coat the biblical accounts.  The story of Samson, for example, had the hero give a really good blood-curdling scream as his eyes were being burned out.  I can remember the dialogue to this day.  Samson wakes up after Delilah has shaved his head:

Samson:          What are you going to do with that white-hot poker?

Philistine:        Burn your eyes out, strong one!

Samson:          No!  No!  Don’t!  You can’t!

Philistine:        Can’t I, though?  Watch. Watch as long as you can.  There!

Samson:          Aaaahhhh!

My brother and I used to play that scream over and over again.  Come to think of it, that scream would make a great ring tone for my cell phone.  Whenever the Chancery calls!  Anyway, John and I thrilled to the stories of David and Goliath; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; and Daniel in the Lions’ Den.  Even today, I cannot read the actual biblical narratives without hearing the voices and sound effects from my childhood.

            Well, I went on eBay and was able to buy the old LPs, and I had a professional transfer their contents onto CDs.  To be sure, the recordings pop and hiss a little like the old phonograph records from which they were taken.  But listening to them today makes me realize the profound effect they had on my faith and on my eventual vocation.  The sixteen Bible stories were like sixteen seeds embedded in sweetness.  God did the rest.

            You can listen to the stories right here on this website by clicking on the menu button and then tapping “Bible Stories.”

            The seeds of the Gospel come in many different shapes and sizes.  Sometimes they are annoying, like the sesame seeds on my bagel.  At times, like coconuts, their benefits are gained only after hard-won victories.  Sometimes, like the seeds of peaches, they are surrounded by pure sweetness. 

            Lord Jesus, may each one of us receive exactly the kind of seeds that will allow the Gospel to put down deep roots in our lives.  Amen.