The Role of Community in Creating Good Soil for God's Word

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells the familiar parable of the sower, in which seed spread on rocky ground, or among thorns, or on an unguarded path, all fail to adequately take root and yield a lasting harvest. The seed sowed on good soil, though -- the Word of God received by someone both willing and conditioned to truly understand it -- yields as much as a hundredfold of bounty.

Today's version from Matthew doesn't specify what qualities allow someone to "hear and understand" the Word, but the version of the parable in Luke does: "an honest and good heart."

The question then becomes, how do we create an honest and good heart, one where the will exists, and the conditioning has been provided, so that the seed can find good soil, and thus that the Word can by truly understood, accepted, and lived by?

The usual answer, and a good one, is that we are responsible for creating good hearts, hearts loving and open enough to receive God's Word, within ourselves. We cannot earn God's grace, but we are responsible for our own hearts' (and souls') conditioning so that God's grace has a chance to work within us.

Ultimately, I believe that to be true.

But it's not the whole story. Or at least sometimes it's not the whole story.

Nothing specifically in this Gospel passage says this next part, but the Gospels as a whole manifestly do. The next part is that all of us together can, and indeed should feel a responsibility to, help create the conditions in which hearts can be well prepared. Farmers know that in many cases good soil must be watered, perhaps fertilized, and tilled. The soil does not do those things for or by itself.

We have a communal responsibility -- not through any humanly (much less governmentally) enforced mandates or force, but through voluntary choice and action -- to create an atmosphere where an openness to God's Word, and His love, can be achieved.

In earlier of these weekly columns I have shared vignettes from the grade school I was lucky enough to attend, Trinity Episcopal School in New Orleans. Here's another -- one giving an example of how a community can create fertile soil.

In November of my first-grade year, playing a football pass-catching game our coach invented, I somehow dislocated my hip while diving for a catch. Of course a dislocated hip is a serious injury. I was in a body cast for weeks, and wheelchair-and-crutches-bound for months.

But once I did return to school when my cast was off, even before I got adept at using the crutches, every time "recess" or PE class came around (in other words, twice a day), the coach would walk across the street to my classroom and personally wheel my chair out to the field so I could watch him teach my classmates the then-unfamiliar game of soccer, and so I could feel part of the fun.