Why is it that some people believe in God and take the practice of their faith seriously and others don’t? How is it that some people are converted and others aren’t? I often think of when I came back to my faith at the age of 19 yet many of my friends did not? For all the people who preach the Gospel and even for all the miracles that happen around us—and there are many—very few seem to be converted.
Another question is why did so many people listen to Jesus when he preached? Nobody knew who he was and he had no education to boast about. Yet he gathered a huge following of people wherever he went. You could say it was because he was the Son of God. Yes, but nobody knew that at the time. I think it was because he was preaching the truth and peoples’ spirits recognized this, because all of us are searching for the truth; the truth about God and the truth about our life. The truth is attractive to us and it pierces right to the heart, so that when we hear it we want to hear more of it, even though it may be difficult or painful for us to hear. Our faith is about a search for this truth, which has been revealed to us by Jesus. That’s why we keep struggling with it, even though it often feels up hill at the best of times. But it’s too important to ignore, and deep down we all know that.
The way Jesus taught the people through parables—apart from being a very effective way of teaching—is also wonderful because it means that we can find the truth of the teaching if we are searching for it, but equally we won’t see it if we are not looking. It requires a certain openness of heart. Parables don’t just present us with a truth, but they invite us to search for one. This in itself is a reminder of the respect that God has for our freedom. God won’t force anything on us, not even the truth.
In this parable Jesus is teaching us two things about religion. First of all that it is a part of life that some people will hear about God and ignore it, or become preoccupied with something else, or not like the idea that it means you might have to suffer for it. Only a few will actually hear it and really grow because of it, as God intended. Those who do are generally in the minority.
Also, the fruit that comes from the rich soil doesn’t just happen by itself. It is not just fate whether we will be open to believe or not; we have a part to play in it. Rich soil only comes about with hard work and a lot of care. Preparing the ground, getting rid of the weeds and stones. So if the word of God is to grow in us, we have to make some effort to be ready for it and to help it to grow. What does this mean in practical terms? It means that if we want our faith to grow, we need to give it time, and to make certain sacrifices so that it will blossom. We need to feed ourselves with the right material: the word of God and not just the ideas of our society. The word of God is what will bring us life in a way that nothing else will.
Jesus says, ‘Try to enter by the narrow gate. For the road that leads to hell is wide and spacious, but the road that leads to life is narrow.’ It is not the most attractive road, but it is the most worthwhile one.
The parable also tells us that God is generous in the way that He scatters the seed. Seed is thrown everywhere in order to give us every chance to grow. The Lord is constantly throwing out seed on the ground, as it were. God continually invites us to follow him, no matter what stage of life we’re at, so it’s never too late to start again. And He will continue to call to us to follow the path until we die. The invitation is always there for us.
Finally, in the first reading from Isaiah, the Lord says that his word will not return to him without bringing about his will. So even though we will always live with the mystery of why many people believe but so many more don’t, all of this also seems to play its part. In God’s plan, everything fits together and we will see that when we die ourselves. Everything will make sense. For now the Lord calls us to persevere and be faithful as best we can.