In the parable of the sower and the seed, Jesus is teaching about reactions to his proclamation of God’s empire. God’s empire is the term biblical scholar Warren Carter uses to describe the kin-dom. I like the term because it is in direct contrast to empire—the Roman Empire in Jesus’ day and the American Empire in our day. Carter’s hermeneutics enable us to read Matthew in context and to apply the Gospel to our lives as disciples today.
Jesus presents four scenarios describing responses to his preaching and teaching. The first group fails to see God’s reign manifested in Jesus. The second group receives the teaching but withers when tribulation comes along. The third group is so absorbed in worldly cares that the Word goes unheeded. Finally, the fourth group, the disciples, let the Word of God take root in their hearts. Let look at each group.
The first group hears but does not understand the message. Carter says that “they do not discern God’s reign manifested in Jesus.” They do not understand that Jesus is standing over against the very empire they are immersed in. The context is that Jesus is challenging the Roman Empire which is oppressing his brothers and sisters in Israel. Jesus’ values are not the values of empire. Jesus’ values are not the values of the Roman Empire or the American Empire. We get so immersed in Americanism that the devil steals away what was sown in our hearts when we first heard the Word.
The espoused values of the American Empire are consistent with Gospel values. Properly understood “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are consistent with Gospel values. Jesus has come that we might have life and have what we need (Jn 10:10). Jesus has come to liberate, set free the captives. Jesus wants us to pursue the happiness of growing union with Abba God.
Unfortunately, the espoused values of our empire get distorted by greed and domination. Democracy and freedom comes to be code words for domination and control over the resources of others. Iraq is more about oil and water than it is about freedom and democracy for the Iraqi people. Killing people to set them free is not the liberation Jesus envisions.
As disciples, we are to listen to the truth of God. We are not to let the Evil One steal it away. Rather than being complacent “pew potatoes,” we are to proclaim Gospel values, the values of Jesus’ Empire. We proclaim the dignity of every human person. We proclaim our solidarity with one another. We proclaim justice and right order. We proclaim just health care reform because it is the right of every human person. We proclaim just immigration reform because we are to welcome the stranger. We do not let greed and domination silence our proclamation of Gospel values.
The second group welcomes the Word but withers when the going gets tough. How often do we wither and fade when it is tough to stand up for the values of Jesus’ Empire? When everyone in the hood is for building walls and deporting undocumented (They wrongly say illegal.) immigrants, it is tough to say that we must enact just immigration reform and welcome the stranger. When over 50% of our fellow Catholics—the ones who are supposed to understand Jesus’ values—condone and support capital punishment and torture, it is tough to proclaim that torture is never permissible and that capital punishment goes against the teaching of the church. It is much easier to “fall away and stumble.”
The third group is immersed in the lure of wealth and riches. Wealth and riches choke the Word. This teaching of Jesus strikes at the heart of consumerism—amassing more and more while more have less and less. Jesus does not have a favorable attitude toward wealth. He spoke of the camel getting through the eye of the needle. He told the parable of the rich man and the beggar at the gate of the palace. In Jesus’ Empire, wealth is to be shared (How dare a presidential candidate support this Gospel value?). Everything is gift. We are to use our resources to build up the Body of Christ. How can we justify the accumulation of inordinate wealth when billions “live” on less than $2 per day? How can we build more silos when billions are starving? How can we appropriate more and more for weapons of mass destruction when 47 million people do not have access to health care? How can we endorse free trade agreements which impoverish native farmers in their own land? How can we continue to support economic structures like the World Bank which keep whole nations in dire poverty?
Now for the fourth group. People in this group get it. They hear the Word. They embrace the values of Jesus’ Empire over against the false values of American Empire. They live and bear Gospel fruit. They produce abundance which serves the common good. They love their enemies. They feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked. Care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, and welcome the stranger.
Merton taught that we live a myth—the myth of the individual self. In reality, we are all one. We are from the same Creator. We are the same star dust. People who hear the Word and produce abundance for all are rejecting the acquisitive false self. They are discovering their true self in the depths of God’s love. They are living in union with Abba God. They understand justice, peace, human dignity and solidarity. They understand the need to teach the three fourths in the other groups who are not getting the message.