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JULY 13, 2008: Fifteenth Sunday of the Year


Isaiah 55:10-11
Romans 8:18-23
Matthew 13:1-23

Perhaps today we should switch our first and second reading. Paul surfaces a problem with which all people of faith must deal. But Deutero-Isaiah and Matthew's Jesus give the same basic answer to the problem, even though they ministered more than 500 years apart.

The Apostle states the question: How do we know the things we hope for in faith will eventually happen one day? He begins by making a statement of faith: "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us."

Paul employs the image of a woman in labor to convey his point. "We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we are saved."

What's the basis of our hope?

Deutero-Isaiah and Jesus zero in on the same answer: God's word.

Deutero-Isaiah prophecies during the Chosen People's darkest hour - the 6th century BCE Babylonian Exile. Between 586 and 530 a large percentage of Jews are confined in Babylon, a safeguard against any revolt against their foreign conquerors. There's no hope for release, no chance to return to the Promised Land.

But then this unnamed, unexpected prophet comes on the scene, promising their time of punishment is now over. He encourages them to pack their bags and get the road between Israel and Babylon in shape. Their hated exile is over.

Sounds great, but how can they be certain this longed for day is just around the corner? Deutero-Isaiah has just one answer: We've got Yahweh's word on it! If Yahweh says it, it happens, no matter the obstacles.

That's where today's pericope comes in. The prophet perfectly summarizes the force of that word. "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, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it." Nothing or no one can stop God's word from having the effect God intends.

If we take just the first nine verses of today's gospel, Jesus completely agrees with Deutero-Isaiah. (The rest of our passage contains additions made by the early Christian community to help them understand situations in their lives of faith which the historical Jesus never had to encounter.)

Matthew leaves out the question which seems to have prompted Jesus' famous parable about sowing seed. Most probably someone came up one day and asked him why he was wasting his time doing all that preaching. In a month or two practically no one would remember anything he said.