15 Sunday A - Sower and the Seeds



Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration

Today our thoughts during this celebration are guided by the Parable of the Sower: seeds fell along the path, on rocks, among thorns, and into rich soil. Only the seeds which fell into the rich soil bore fruit. Christ is the sower, and while we desire to be good soil, we know there are times when we are pretty shallow like the depth of soil along the path. There are areas of rock in our lives where God’s word has not taken root, and there are areas where God’s word finds difficulty in taking root. So as we prepare to celebrate the mystery of Christ’s love, let us acknowledge our failures and ask the Lord for pardon and strength. 
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Michel DeVerteuil
General Comments


On this and the next two Sundays we have parables of Jesus for our meditation so it would be good to remember the special characteristics of parabolic teaching.

1. Parables are wisdom teaching.  By reading them we get a new insight into life - e.g. parenting, friendship, leadership, spiritual guidance, etc.

2. They teach by way of paradox. Things that we thought to be opposed turn out to be both true, and taken together reveal the new insight mentioned above. We must always be on the look out for a surprise in a parable therefore – an unexpected turn of events, something being praised that we would not normally consider praiseworthy. If we follow this up, the parable ends up challenging our values or the dominant values of our culture.

3. Parables are stories and we are invited to enter into their movement. At a certain point the story comes to a climax  – the moment when we experience the surprise mentioned above. Note that the climactic moment will be different for different readers and for us at different times in our lives.

The parable of the sower is one of Jesus’ greatest, not merely for its content, but as a masterpiece of imaginative teaching. The conclusion of the meditation is twofold – how deep! and, what a great teacher!

  The passage is in four sections:
- the parable in verses 4 to 9;
- a comment on teaching in parables in verses 10 to 15;
- a reflection on the grace of the present in verses 16 and 17;
- the parable interpreted in verses 18 to 23.

We are free to remain with one section only or to see a thread running through the entire passage.

In meditating on verses 4 to 9 we are free to take a different interpretation to that proposed in verses 18 to 23. Those verses focus on the different kinds of soil, and this is generally how the parable has been read in the Church. We can read the parable from the point of view of the sower, however, getting a feel of how free and generous of spirit he is – the fact that he is not overly concerned that some of the seed will not produce crop but continues to sow, trusting that eventually his work will bear abundant fruit.

1. This was probably Jesus’ original perspective. We can imagine him telling the parable in response to the disciples’ complaints, “We’re wasting our time”, “No one’s listening”. He then points to a sower sowing seed in a nearby field and answers them, “Let’s learn from him that we have to continue sowing.”

We celebrate sowers, God himself first of all, generous both in nature and in the work of grace. We also celebrate people like Jesus who praise the approach of the sower and reject their critics who advocate being calculating in relationships.

We read the parable from hindsight in a spirit of thanksgiving, “Thank God for sowers who continued working in hope”; or as a call to repentance for today, “Forgive us, Lord, for being so calculating in our ministry.”

2. In verses 10 to 15, we take “parables” in the wide sense of events (in human behaviour or nature) which become lessons about life. The passage reminds us that it is the way of teaching preferred by God and by all good teachers – parents, community leaders, church ministers, spiritual guides. We ask ourselves, why?

3. Verses 16 and 17 celebrate the experience of parabolic teaching bearing fruit  – the “Aha!” moment.  We think of insights we take for granted today, whereas some years ago “sowers” were attacked for preaching them – equality of races and sexes, democracy, the Church’s option for the poor.

4. Verses 18 to 23 belong to a different context from verses 4 to 9. The Church has grown and become more settled. The question now arises, how come some remained faithful and others didn’t? The parable  answers, “Look at the sower, you will see that it is the soil which determines whether seed bears fruit or not”.

We repent of times when we allowed obstacles to prevent seed from bearing fruit in our individual lives and our communities.

We also celebrate experiences of rich soil bearing abundant fruit. We are  free to focus on the fact that even when the harvest is abundant there are still differences – “now a hundred fold, now thirty, now sixty.” What is the wisdom in being conscious of this?

The parable of the sower is perfectly fulfilled  in the lectio divina method. The biblical word is a seed sown in us; personal experience is the soil in which it takes root; we can identify various factors which prevent  the word from “producing crop” ; once we “hear the word and understand it” (i.e. come to wisdom) it yields a rich harvest.

The parable is also a powerful teaching on development. If aid from rich to poor countries is to “yield a rich harvest” it must be given as a seed which will take root in the local culture. Truly a call to repentance for those involved in globalization today – and we all are!

Prayer reflection

Lord, in the world today we have become very calculating:
- whatever effort we put out must bring maximum gain;
- what does not bring results we omit altogether;
- we even relate like that in our families, in our Church community, with our friends.
Teach us to look at the sower going out to sow, to see in him how generous you are:
- you don’t mind that some seed falls on the edge of the path
and birds come and eat them up;
- or that some fall on patches of rock where they spring up right away
but as soon as the sun comes up they are scorched and wither away;
- or that some fall on thorns and are choked by the thorns.
You let all this happen because you know that eventually seeds will fall on rich soil,
and will produce their crop, some a hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty.

Lord, we thank you for our parents:
- they were generous with their love;
- they sowed the seeds of care, good advice and their own example.
Often they saw no results as these seeds fell on the edge of the path,
on patches of rock, or among thorns.
But they sowed all the same, and eventually the seeds fell on rich soil
and produced their crop.

Lord, forgive us that we do not give Jesus’ message a chance to go deep into society:
- we choke it with many compromises;
- we imply that it wasn’t really meant to work,
- that it was only for children, youths or older people.
As a result, it never gets a chance to fall on rich soil,
to touch the generosity and idealism of people,
and so it does not produce the crop it was meant to produce in society.

Lord we pray today for those who work the land,
that they may sow like the sower in the parable,
- not mean or calculating or arrogant,
- but trusting the land and respecting its wildness
so that it may produce abundant crops.

Lord, we look back on our journey to maturity.
We remember with gratitude how at first we had only a glimmer of light;
we knew very vaguely
- that we wanted to live a life of service;
- that we needed a deep relationship with you;
- that here was the kind of person we wanted to be with for the rest of our lives.
Then, as we needed more clarity, you gave us more,
and now we experience abundant peace within ourselves.
Help us to be content with the little faith you give us,
knowing that as we need more you will give us more,
and when it is time we will have more than enough.
Have mercy on those who cannot trust at all,
lest the little chance they may have be taken away.

Lord, help us to feel compassion for those who cannot interpret your parables,
to understand that their ears are dull of hearing and they have shut their eyes
for fear that they should see with their eyes or hear with their ears,
or understand with their hearts;
for it they did, they would have to be converted
before they could be healed by you.

Lord, we thank you for the many wonderful things
that our eyes can see and our ears can hear:
- that you created men and women as equal partners;
- that the human family is called to live in harmony;
- that the Church of Jesus Christ is the Church of the poor;
- that all the baptized are fully members of the Church.
We thank you for all the prophets and the holy people who longed to see what we see,
but never saw it, to hear what we hear, but never heard it.

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Homily Notes

1. There is always a danger that the Eucharist is transformed from a celebration into an affair of words, words, and yet more words. Picture this situation: people have just sat down after listening to the (long) parable of the sower when they have heard the story (13:3-8), then teaching, then the explan­ation of the story (13:18-23); then they listen to the preacher explaining the story yet again, and possibly telling yet more stories ‘to bring the story home’ or else an explanation of  ‘the mystery of the kingdom’ (alas, if it is that simple we should not refer to it as a mystery!). The result is information over­load: so many words that people become tired and hearing yet more words, they hear nothing.

2. An alternative would be something like this. Once people have settled in their seats, introduce a few moments reflec­tion with an introduction like this:  We have heard the words of Jesus about the mystery of the kingdom and his words on how the word of God must bear rich fruit in our lives. Let us reflect in silence about what it means to us to have been called by Jesus to become mem­bers of the Father’s kingdom. 

3. Conclude the period of reflections (you need only wait a minute or so after the coughing and clearing the throat phase has passed) with the invitation to stand for the profession of faith.

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John Litteton
Gospel Reflection

The setting for the parable of the sower is informative. Matthew tells us that Jesus was sitting by the lakeside when ‘such crowds gathered round him’ (Mt 13:2) that he went to a boat and sat in it while the multitudes stood on the shore. We can readily imagine this scene, with great crowds of people hurrying to where Jesus was, anxious to listen to him teaching about God.

Not many of us enjoy being pushed and crushed as tends to happen when there are crowds of people around us. So it tells us much about Jesus’ popularity — and the attractiveness of his teaching — that the people were willing to suffer the discomfort of being part of a large crowd simply to hear him speak. Many of them would feel another kind of discomfort, though, as Jesus’ parable unfolded.

Familiar with the agricultural theme, they would have listened attentively to Jesus and at least some of them would have understood. Just as a farmer sows seed, some of which comes to fruition but much of which does not for various reasons, so the word of God goes unheeded by people who are negligent or wilful in their selfish refusal to nurture the seed of faith that is given to them by God.
Jesus concluded the parable: ‘Listen, anyone who has ears!’ (Mt 13:9). In other words, those who truly seek God, those who want to understand, will hear God speaking to them through the parable.

We tend to think of the parabolic method as being aimed at making it easier for the listeners to understand the things of God, without having to think too much about the story. But these words of Jesus require serious reflection, as does the disciples’ question to Jesus asking why he spoke to the crowd in parables.

Jesus responded: ‘Because the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are revealed to us, but they are not revealed to them’ (Mt 13:11). Thus we come full circle, back to the purpose of the parables, which is to teach — in a hidden way — the truths of the faith.

In explaining the meaning of the parable of the sower, Jesus highlighted some important truths for us. For instance, he said: ‘When anyone hears the word of God without understanding it, the evil one comes and carries off what was sown in his heart: this is the man who received the seed on the edge of the path’ (Mt 13:19).

There is a clear message here for parents, priests, teachers and anyone who is involved in passing on the faith. Neglecting to educate those in our care, or neglecting to nurture the seed of faith planted in their souls at baptism so that they cannot understand it to the best of their ability, is a grave failing and a serious sin.

Similarly, the seed that fell on stony ground represents those who receive the faith with joy but buckle and fall away when trials come. Perhaps most of us fall into this category, by not living up to the demands of the Christian life because we are unwilling to suffer for Christ. Or perhaps we are like those who received the seed among thorns, that is, we allowed our faith to be choked because we preferred riches and the things of this world to following Christ.

The gospel message is always the same and the parable of the sower embodies the entire message: we need to put God first in our lives. Nothing can be allowed to prevent us from doing God’s will. We strive to bring forth only good fruit in everything that we do and we do everything for the greater glory of God.

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The Connections 

THE WORD: 

Chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel is the evangelist’s collection of Jesus’ parables.  The word parable comes from the Greek word parabole, which means putting two things side by side in order to confront or compare them.  And that is exactly how Jesus uses parables:  He places a simile from life or nature against the abstract idea of the reign of God.  The comparison challenges the hearer to consider ideas and possibilities greater and larger than those to which they might be accustomed.   

Jesus’ hearers expected God’s kingdom to be the restoration of Israel to great political and economic power; the Messiah would be a great warrior-king who would lead Israel to this triumph.  Jesus’ parables subtly and delicately led people, without crushing or disillusioning them, to rethink their concept of God’s kingdom.

In Palestine, sowing was done before the plowing.  Seed was not carefully or precisely placed in the ground.  The farmer scattered the seed in all directions, knowing that, even though much will be wasted, enough will be sown in good earth to ensure a harvest nonetheless.  The parable of the sower (which appears in all three synoptic gospels) teaches that the seed’s fruitfulness (God's word) depends on the soil’s openness (the willingness of the human heart to embrace it). 

HOMILY POINTS: 

The parable of the sower challenges us to see how deeply the word of God has taken root in our lives, how central God is to the very fabric of our day-to-day existence.   

Christ invites his followers to embrace the faith of the sower: to trust and believe that our simplest acts of kindness and forgiveness, our humblest offer of help to anyone in need, our giving of only a few minutes to listen to the plight of another soul may be the seeds that fall “on good soil” and yields an abundant harvest.

Jesus challenges us in the parable of the sower to be both sower and seed: to sow seeds of encouragement, joy and reconciliation regardless of the “ground” on which it is scattered, and to imitate the seed’s total giving of self that becomes the harvest of Gospel justice and mercy.     

“A sower went out to sow.  Some of the seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up . . . Other seed fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

Matthew 13: 1-23 

Unimaginable seeds 

They agreed to serve as a leadership couple for the parish’s Confirmation program.  They met several times during the year with a group of high school sophomores.  They led their six charges through the material, preparing them for the sacrament.  The six were all good kids — with varying levels of interest and investment in the program.  All in all, it was a terrific experience for both the couple and the confirmandi entrusted to them. 

Two Christmases later, they received a card from Chris, one of the teenagers in the group.  Chris was now a freshman at a college several hundred miles away. 

“Dear Mr. and Mrs. L.,” Chris wrote in the card.  “I was in your Confirmation group at St. Mark’s two years ago.  I didn’t say much in the group, so you may not remember me.   I just finished my first semester at college, and it’s been tough.  I was really having a hard time.  When things were at their worst, I remembered how you told us about your own first year in school and how a professor had helped you make it through.  So I went to talk to one of my profs whom I was least scared of.  She has been great and helped me sort things out.  So thanks for your advice.  Have a Merry Christmas.  Chris.” 

We plant many seeds without realizing it.  An encouraging word, a kind act, a small gift, a moment to listen can all result in a harvest of hope we cannot imagine.  Such sowing is pure faith: planting seed that breaks itself open to realize the harvest within it, that struggles to survive the most barren soil to provide food and shelter for every creature.  Jesus challenges us in the parable of the sower to be both sower and seed: to sow seeds of encouragement, joy and reconciliation regardless of the “ground” on which it is scattered, and to imitate the seed’s total giving of self that becomes the harvest of Gospel justice and mercy.    

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ILLUSTRATIONS: 

The Kingdom of God was the main emphasis of Jesus' ministry and this is accepted by most. But defining precisely what the Kingdom was is a bit more difficult. Indeed, even Jesus himself was often illusive about it. He did not speak in absolutes; rather, he spoke in parables. Such is our scripture text for this morning. Jesus compared the Kingdom to a sower going out and spreading seed. Some of it falls upon hard ground and is unable to take root. Some of it falls on shallow ground, and although it initially sprouts it later withers away. But some seed falls upon good earth and comes to fruition and produces a harvest.

We are to understand, of course, that the sower is God, the seed is the Kingdom, and the various types of soil represent us--you and me. On the surface of it, of course, it doesn't sound as though God is a very frugal farmer. After all, most of the seed that is strewn about never takes root. But this is not really a story about the sower or the seed. It is a story about different types of soil, or to put it another way, the responses of different types of people to the Kingdom.

The question is really, what is the state of our hearts when the seeds are sown with us? With that in mind, let us examine the various conditions of the heart mentioned in this story.

I. The Hardened Heart
II. The Distracted Heart
III. The Defeated Heart

IV. The Hopeful (and Joyful!) Heart
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 Neither "fish nor fowl." "Lukewarm." "Wishy-washy." "Spineless." "Mediocre." 

 These are not good character references. These are descriptions of people who have no personal convictions, no compelling passions, no "take-it-to-the-front-line" faithfulness. Instead, like liquid gelatin, those who have no backbone pour themselves into whatever mold is put before to them for the simplest, easiest gain.  

The apostle Paul was definitely not a "lukewarm" or "wishy-washy" kind of guy. In fact, he warned the church at Rome "Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold" (Romans 12:2, Phillips translation). Of course, the church can "squeeze" you into a mold of its own making just as firmly as the world. The mold of Christ is the only mold that should gain entrance to the human heart.  

When Paul stood against the new religious movement forming around this guy named "Jesus the Christ," he was a "homeland defense" zealot. In his role as a protector of the establishment faith of Temple religion, Paul never hesitated to seek out and hunt down any and all who may have been open to the message of this so-called "Christ." As a protector of the tradition, Paul was vigilant and virulent. In the case of Stephen, historically the first "Christian" martyr who was stoned by a mob, Paul was even deadly. 

So it is not surprising that in this week's Epistle text, Romans 8:1-11, Paul's message sounds like yet another "black and white"  "fish or fowl" argument...
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The Wrong Question: What Does It Mean? 

For a moment, let's put this story to one side and hear another story. It concerns a young anthropologist named Connie who works among aboriginal people in Australia. The community where she lives has a rich tradition of storytelling. Everyone gathers at night, a story is told, and then another, and another. Connie feels extraordinarily privileged when she is asked to join in this activity.

The first story told that evening is about the animal ancestor of this community and its adventures at the beginning of time. The story overflows with detail, action, imagery.

At the end of the story, Connie is delighted. "May I ask a question?" she says. "What does it mean?"

All eyes are upon her. The elder looks at her gravely and says, "That is the one question you cannot ask." A long time passes before she is invited again. She has asked the wrong question.

"What does it mean?" was the wrong question for Connie to ask about the aboriginal myth. It may also be the wrong question for us to ask about the story of the sower, or any of the stories told by Jesus. "What does it mean?" is the wrong question if we think that by having an answer, we can somehow get a handle on this story, domesticate it, make it safe. The stories Jesus tells are not subject to our control. He tells these stories so that we can be transformed. He tells these stories, not so that we can ask questions about them, but so that the stories can ask questions of us.

Charles Hoffacker, What Kind of Soil Are You, What Kind of Sower? 
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 God and Three Pennies 

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India died as a world-known figure. But who would have ever thought she would have attained such influence when she first began? What did she have to recommend her? A tiny woman, she began with the most meager of resources. Mother Teresa told her superiors, "I have three pennies and a dream from God to build an orphanage." 

"Mother Teresa," her superiors said, "you can't build an orphanage with three pennies . . . with three pennies you can't do anything." 

"I know," she said, smiling, "but with God and three pennies I can do anything." 

Mother Teresa understood the principle of the seed. It takes very little -- but very little blessed by God -- and miracles can occur. This, of course is akin to Jesus' teaching elsewhere, that faith only the size of a mustard seed can produce an enormous bush (Matthew 17:20). That is a constant law in God's world. 

King Duncan, www.Sermons.com
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 Sowing the Seed 

One of William Barclay's friends tells this story. In the church where he worshiped there was a lonely old man, old Thomas. He had outlived all his friends and hardly anyone knew him. When Thomas died, this friend had the feeling that there would be no one to go to the funeral so he decided to go, so that there might be someone to follow the old man to his last resting-place.

There was no one else, and it was a miserable wet day. The funeral reached the cemetery, and at the gate there was a soldier waiting. An officer, but on his raincoat there were no rank badges. He came to the grave side for the ceremony, then when it was over, he stepped forward and before the open grave swept his hand to a salute that might have been given to a king. The friend walked away with this soldier, and as they walked, the wind blew the soldier's raincoat open to reveal the shoulder badges of a brigadier general.

The general said, "You will perhaps be wondering what I am doing here. Years ago Thomas was my Sunday School teacher; I was a wild lad and a sore trial to him. He never knew what he did for me, but I owe everything I am or will be to old Thomas, and today I had to come to salute him at the end." Thomas did not know what he was doing.

No preacher or teacher ever does. Keep sowing the seed. We can leave the rest to God, including keeping the fire going. And that is GOOD news for all us tenant farmers.

David E. Leininger, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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 The Life Is in the Seed 

Doug Murren, in Churches That Heal (1999), retells that old Native American tale of an opossum watching a seed grow. 

One day an opossum visited his good friend, a raccoon, at his home near the river. The opossum marveled at his friend's lush garden and asked if he could grow one like it. The raccoon assured the opossum he could do so, although he cautioned him, "It is hard work." 

The opossum eagerly vowed to do the hard work necessary, then asked for and received some seeds. He rushed home with his treasure, buried them amid much laughter and song, went inside to clean up, ate, and went to bed. The next morning he leapt from bed to see his new garden. 

Nothing. The ground looked no different than it had the day before!

Furious with anger and frustration, the opossum shouted at his buried seeds, "Grow, seeds, grow!" He pounded the ground and stomped his feet. But nothing happened. Soon a large crowd of forest animals gathered to see who was making all the commotion and why. The raccoon came to investigate with all the others.

"What are you doing, Opossum?" he asked. "Your racket has awakened the whole forest." 

The opossum railed about having no garden, then turned to each seed, and commanded it to grow. When the animals began to mock the opossum for his silly actions, he only screamed louder. At last the raccoon spoke up once more.  "Wait a minute, Possum," he said. "You can't make the seeds grow. You can only make sure they get sun and water, then watch them do their work. The life is in the seed, not in you."

As the truth sank in, the opossum ceased his yelling and began to care for the seeds as the raccoon instructed, watering them regularly and getting rid of any weeds that invaded his garden. (On some days, though, when no one was watching, he still shouted a bit.) 

Then one glorious morning the opossum wandered outside to see that multitudes of beautiful green sprouts dotted his garden. Just a few days later, gorgeous flowers began to bloom. With uncontrollable excitement and pride, the opossum ran to his friend, the raccoon, and asked him to witness the miracle. The raccoon took one long look at the thriving garden and said, "You see, Opossum, all you had to do was let the seeds do the work while you watched." 

"Yes," smiled the opossum, finally remembering the wise words of his friend many days before, "but it's a hard job watching a seed work."

 Doug Murren concludes: "There's a lesson there for all of us. Sometimes, as Christians and church leaders, we work too hard and take ourselves too seriously instead of simply planting people in the proper environment and letting them grow." (Doug Murren, in Churches That Heal: Becoming a Church That Mends Broken Hearts and Restores Shattered Lives [West Monroe, La: Howard Publishing, 1999], 13-14, 15.)

Adapted by Leonard Sweet, Collected Sermons,
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 A Wise Old Bird 

There is a story about an old man who always had witty and wise answers for people who asked him anything. Once, a smart-alecky came to him with his hands covering something he was holding. He told the sage that he had a small, newly hatched bird in his hands. He challenged the old man to tell him whether the bird was alive or dead. He, of course, planned to prove the old man wrong, because if he said the bird was dead, he would simply open his hands to expose a perfectly healthy baby bird. But if he said the bird was alive, then he would crush the bird before opening his hands. The old man proved wiser than he thought, because he said, "The bird is whatever you choose him to be." 

And that's the way it is with the kingdom of God. The choice for the kingdom to live or die is within your grasp. What do you chose? 

Brett Blair, www.Sermons.com
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 Where the Roots Take Place 

Fred Craddock tells a story about the time he got a phone call from a woman whose father had died. She had been a teenager in one of the churches he had served as pastor twenty years before, and he would have sworn that if there was ever a person who never heard a word he said, that teenage girl was it. She was always giggling with her friends in the balcony, passing notes to boys, drawing pictures on the bulletin. But when her father died, she looked up her old pastor, the Rev. Fred Craddock, and gave him a call. "I don't know if you remember me," she started. Oh, yes, he remembered. "When my daddy died, I thought I was going to come apart," she continued. "I cried and cried and cried. I didn't know what to do. But then I remembered something you said in one of your sermons . . ." And Fred Craddock was stunned. She had remembered something he had said in one of his sermons?! It was proof enough to him that you can never tell how the seed will fall or where it might take root.

Jim Somerville, The Reckless Sower
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An Extravagant Gesture of Grace 

This past week I visited an old friend dying of cancer. The hospice nurse said he had 3-5 days to live. I went to remind him of all the things he had taught me in life as an artist. Once I viewed one of his works and I said, "Tell me what that means." He said, "If I tell you, that's all you will ever see there." I never forgot this truth and have employed it in zillions of ways over the years. What struck me as a tight-fisted approach on his part, at first, actually became an extravagant gesture of grace, because it has encouraged a "good soil" part of me to look creatively at art, literature, music, people, ideas, etc., in open and receptive ways. There is now a part of me that regularly asks what may be seeking me there, calling me to understand, to respond. Good soil is that part of us that seeks to let God do his thing with us - affirm us and stimulate us to produce the kind of caring and generous spirits which only a prodigiously extravagant God, a God almost wasteful with his grace, can produce.
David Zersen 
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 Top Ten Things I Have Learned from Gardening 

10. We really do "reap what we sow". Good seeds bear good fruit.
9. Without rains and storms there is no growth - no fruit is produced.
8. When weeding, be careful! We can't always tell the difference between a nasty weed and a beautiful flower.
7. Deep roots are a good thing. Without them, we'll wither and die.
6. Pruning and trimming, as painful as it seems, actually works to our advantage.
5. In gardening, as in life, cheating does not work. Short-cuts, slipshod efforts, and neglect always show up in the quality of our garden.
4. Like anything worthwhile, beautiful gardens require attention, hard work, and commitment.
3. We cannot rush the harvest. Bearing fruit takes time and patience. Premature fruit is almost always sour.
2. Gardening and growing is a lifetime experience. We can experience growth and beauty until the day we die.
1. Fertilizer happens! In fact, nothing much grows without it. 

Allen R. Rumble, Growing Things

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From Fr. Tony Kadavil’s Collection: 

1.     Moso bamboo’s surprise growth:

The Moso (Phyllostachys pubescens) is a bamboo plant that grows mostly in China and the Far East. Moso bamboo is the largest of the cold-hardy bamboos, growing to a height of 75 feet with a diameter of eight inches.  After the Moso is planted, no visible growth occurs for up to fifty days - even under ideal conditions! Then, as if by magic, it suddenly begins growing to its full height of 75 feet within six weeks. The Moso’s rapid growth is due to the miles of roots (rhizomes) it has developed during those two months of getting ready. Jesus’ parable of the sower invites us to be patient when we fail to achieve instant results from the preaching we do through our exemplary lives of bearing witness to Jesus and his gospel. 

2.     Sonora 64 and IR 8:

Agricultural scientists like Dr. Norman Borlaug from the U.S., Dr. M. S. Swaminathan from India and Dr. Gurdev Khush from the Philippines proved to the world that seed has enormous power in it to save a nation from poverty. In the sixties, political scientists were predicting massive worldwide famine, hitting countries like India acutely, with its  440  million  people,  leading  millions  to  starve.  There  was,  however,  one scientist who  saw  things differently. His name was Dr. Norman Borlaug an agronomist from the U. S. who went to India with a seed called "Sonora 64," a wheat seed he developed at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre

in Mexico.   Borlaug convinced the Indian agricultural scientists and the government authorities to give it a try. They planted some Sonora 64 wheat in the Punjab region of India. The results were spectacular and pretty soon they were using it throughout the subcontinent. Later, they introduced a new variety of rice, called IR8, developed by Dr. Gurdev Khush at the International Rice Research Institute at Manila, Philippines and it brought even better results: It increased rice production five-fold without using chemical fertilizers and ten - fold by  using  chemical fertilizers. These new seeds enabled India and other Asian  countries  to  avert  famine.  Today  with  over  1.3  billion  people,  India actually produces a food surplus and has become a major rice exporter, shipping nearly 4.5 million tons in 2006.  Here we see the power of a seed. Jesus tells us in today’s gospel about a far superior power of the word of God.  (Fr. Phil Bloom) (http://www.homilies.net/e/E -08-07-13.asp) 

3.     The costly parrot trained to sow the word of God:

Four brothers left home for college and became successful doctors and lawyers. Some years later, they had a reunion.   They chatted after having dinner together. They discussed the gifts they were able to give their elderly mother who lived in a far away city and decided to open their mother’s thank you letter to each. The first said, "I had a big house built for Mama." The second said, "I had a hundred thousand dollar theater built in the house." The third said, "I had a Mercedes dealer deliver an SL600 to her." The fourth said, "You know how Mama loved reading the Bible, and you know she can't read anymore because she can't see very well." "Well I met a preacher who told me about a parrot that can recite the entire Bible. It took twenty preachers 12 years to teach him. I had to pledge to contribute $100,000 to the church, but it was worth it. Mama just has to name the chapter and verse and the parrot will recite it." The other brothers were impressed. 

Then they solemnly opened the thank you letters sent to them by their mom. Mama wrote: "Milton, the house you built is so huge. I live in only one room, but I have to clean the whole house. Thanks anyway." "Michael, you gave me an expensive theater with Dolby sound, it could hold 50 people, but all my friends are dead, I've lost my hearing and I'm nearly blind. I'll never use it. Thank you for the gesture just the same." "Marvin, I am too old to travel. I stay at home and I have my groceries delivered, so I never use the Mercedes. The thought was good. Thanks." “Dearest Gerald”, she wrote to her fourth son. “You have the good sense to know what your mother likes. I cooked the chicken you sent. It was absolutely delicious!” 

4.  Keep  sowing  the  seed:   

One  of  William Barclay's friends tells this story. [William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible, CD-ROM edition (Liguori, MO: Liguori Faithware, 1996)] In the church where he worshiped, there was a lonely old man, old Thomas. As he had outlived all his friends, hardly anyone knew him. When Thomas died, his only old friend had

the feeling that there would be no one else to go to the funeral. So he decided to

go, so that there might be someone to follow the old man to his last resting-place. There was no one else, and it was a miserable wet day. The funeral reached the cemetery, and at the gate there was a soldier waiting, an officer, but on his raincoat there were no rank badges. He came to the graveside for the religious ceremony. When the pastor finished his prayers, the officer stepped forward and gave a solemn military salute to Thomas in the closed coffin as if to a dead king. The friend walked away with this soldier, and as they walked, the wind blew the soldier's raincoat open to reveal the shoulder badges of a brigadier general. The general said, "You will perhaps be wondering what I am doing here. Years ago Thomas was my Sunday school teacher. I was a wild lad and a sore trial to him. He never knew what he did for me, but I owe everything I am or will be to old Thomas, and today I had to come to salute him at the end." Thomas did not know what he was doing. No preacher or teacher ever does. Keep sowing the high-yielding seeds of the word of God. This is the GOOD news of today’s gospel for all of us, tenant farmers. 

5.     How about living for God by becoming a sower of the word of God?   

On June 1, 2001, a young Arab man named Saeed Hotari strapped a load of explosives to his body and walked into downtown Tel Aviv. He waited until he was surrounded by a crowd of Israeli citizens, and then Hotari triggered the bombs. Twenty-one Israelis died along with Hotari in the blast. As soon as the news reached Saeed Hotari's community, his family and friends began celebrating. To them, he is a hero. The Palestinians who commit these bombings, and those who celebrate them, believe that a jihad, an act of holy war, is the highest form of religious service. And anyone who dies in a jihad is guaranteed to go straight to Paradise. The Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that is behind these bombings, believes in educating young children in the glories of jihad. There are signs along the walls in Hamas-run schools extolling the heroism of suicide bombings. Saeed Hotari's proud father remarks that he hopes Saeed's brothers and friends follow his example and become suicide bombers, too. As he says, "There is no better way to show God you love him." That's scary. It's misguided of course, even demonic, but it's also a level of commitment that most of us don't know anything about. There IS a better way to show God you love Him. Rather than dying and killing other people for Him, how about living for Him? How about becoming a sower of seed? You don't have to be someone special to sow seeds of the kingdom, but you do need to be committed. You do have to know what you believe and you have to give yourself completely to that belief. That is what today’s gospel challenges us to do. 

6.     Professor Popsicle  or "Dr. Cool"  sowing seeds with commitment:  

Gordon Giesbrecht is the director of the Laboratory for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at the University of Manitoba. His nickname is Professor Popsicle. This is not a sign of disrespect. Professor Giesbrecht has spent his career studying the effects of extreme cold on the human body. He quite literally immerses himself in his  subject.  Throughout  the  course  of  his  career,  Professor  Giesbrecht  has induced  hypothermia--extremely  low  body  temperatures--on  himself  thirty - seven times. He regularly exposes himself to freezing temperatures and records the  effect  those  temperatures  have  on  his  physical  and  mental  health.  His research has led to life-saving advances in treating victims of exposure and hypothermia.  ("Dr.  Cool"  by  Alisa  Smith,  originally  published  in  Outside Magazine, reprinted in Reader's Digest, February 2005, pp. 109-111.) We do not know if Dr. Giesbrecht is more brilliant than other scientists. But we do know he has a high degree of commitment. We know that God was committed to saving humanity from its own foolish ways. How do we know? Because of the cross. You and I want to go through life on the cheap. We want to get by on minimal effort. And it simply will not work. So, ask yourself  what kind of seed are you sowing in the lives of those you love? In the community? In the world for which Christ died? Will this be a better world because you've been here? It doesn't take a lot of talent to make a difference in the world. All it takes is someone willing to take up a cross. 

7.     Sowing seeds by lives:  

Bruce Larson tells about a young African woman who came  to  the  U.S.  from  Angola.  Her  name  was  Maria  and  she  was  always laughing. One day she went to a meeting on evangelism in her church where they were talking about pamphlets, missions, campaigns, and all the rest. At one point someone turned to Maria and said, “What do they do in your church in Angola, Maria?” “In my church,” said Maria, after a moment’s thought, we don’t give pamphlets to people or have missions. We just send one or two Christian families to live in a village. And when people see what Christians are like, then they want to be Christians themselves.” [To Dance (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1972), p. 58]

5) "Dear comrade in Russia.” 

Dr. Keith Wagner, of St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Sidney, Ohio tells the story of a small boy in Florida some years ago. It seems he heard that the Russians were our enemies. He began to wonder about the Russian children, finding it hard to believe that they were his enemies. He wrote a short note: "Dear comrade in Russia. I am seven years old and I believe that we can live in peace. I want to be your friend, not your enemy. Will you become my friend and write to me?" He closed the letter, "Love and Peace" and signed his name. He then neatly folded the note, put it into an empty bottle, and threw it into an inland lake near his home. Several days later, the bottle and note were retrieved on a nearby beach. A story about the note appeared in a local newspaper and the media picked it up nationwide. A group of people from New Hampshire who were taking children to the Soviet Union as ambassadors of peace, read the article, contacted the boy and his family. They invited them to accompany the group to Russia. So, the little boy and his father traveled to Russia as peacemakers. One little boy made a difference. He planted his seed and it bore much fruit. 

8.     Michael Pe’s heroism:  

In 1998, sixteen-year-old Alden Tucker read a news story about Michael Pe, a fifteen-year-old boy of multiracial heritage who had contracted leukemia. Michael's only hope for recovery was a bone-marrow transplant; unfortunately, his exotic ethnic heritage--African-American, Hispanic, and Korean--drastically reduced his chances of finding a matching donor. Alden Tucker, who is also of the same ethnic mix as Michael, immediately volunteered to serve as a donor. Because bone marrow donation is an invasive and painful procedure, federal law prohibits bone-marrow testing for people under eighteen years of age. Alden Tucker wasn't about to take "no" for an answer. He began talking to reporters and legislators about changing the consent laws for bone- marrow donation. He also met and befriended Michael Pe. Just before Michael's death in 1999, Alden promised him that he would never give up the campaign to change  bone-marrow  donation  laws.  In  March  2000,  the  Michael  Pe  Law allowing bone-marrow testing and donation by people under the age of eighteen was signed into law in the state of Washington. (Rebecca Cook in Teen People, cited in "Everyday Heroes," Reader's Digest, Nov. 2001.) He was only a teenager but Alden Tucker made a difference. So can you and I if we are willing to pay the price by sowing the seeds of the gospel with a high level of commitment. 

9.     The harvest is God’s:  

Pastors and people worry about shrinking church membership. At times this worry is expressed by criticism aimed in one direction or another. "If only our pastor preached the gospel," a church member said recently, "then our church would be filled to overflowing every Sunday." "If only my people would live out their faith," a pastor said recently, "then our congregation would grow." "If only our bishops would develop some effective guidelines for evangelism," both pastors and people say on occasion, "then we wouldn't have to face another year with fewer members." Both worry and criticism of this kind grow out of a concern for the coming of God's kingdom. We long for the promised harvest. At times, however, what we may be doing by such worry and criticism is trying to force God's hand. We may find ourselves not only impatient for the harvest, but also impatient with having to live by His promise  alone.  We  want  more  and  more  visible  assurance  of  the  harvest's coming. And so we look for people or for programs to make it happen. Certainly there is nothing wrong with pastors preaching the gospel, or with lay people living out their faith, or with denominations issuing effective guidelines for evangelism. It certainly may be wrong, however, to connect such activity with guaranteed growth. Pastors, people, and denominations may do everything "right," and growth may still not occur. That is no reason for not doing things "right," but it is a reason for optimism beyond any visible success. The harvest is God's, and you and I should be cut free from ever thinking that it is ours.

10.  Listening without hearing:  

During World War II, the city of Palermo, Sicily, a military objective of the Allied Powers, was to be bombed by the American Air Force. To warn the Sicilians, telling them to flee, thousands of pamphlets were dropped on the city beforehand, but the citizens simply did not believe the warning. They listened, but they did not hear! When the American planes came and dropped their bombs, hundreds of Sicilians were killed; in fact, in some cold, dead hands were found the very pages urging them to leave the city. Listening without hearing is also what Jesus refers to in the Parable of the Soils which was spoken at a high point in his career - when people were flocking to him in great numbers. 

11.  "Some seeds fell among thorns.”  

It was early evening on November 9, 1965, when a power station at Niagara Falls became overloaded with power demands. It was set to measure power output, and to transfer power to a backup system if the output rose too high. This system had been put in place two years earlier, but no one had thought to re-adjust the  measurements to reflect the  changes in power demands in those two years. At the first sign of a power overload, the station  shut  down  and  began  transferring  power  to  the  backup  generators. These, too, became overloaded and shut down, resulting in a massive blackout across most of the northeastern United States and Canada. Airports, utilities, corporations, schools, hospitals, public transportation systems, and homes were without power for thirteen hours. Millions of people were affected. And all because  someone  had  not  thought  to  re-adjust  the  numbers  on  the  main generator. [James Burke, Connections (Boston: Little, Brown, 1978)] I see people every day who are overloaded, and choked.  We want to do everything so well. We want to provide for our families, excel in our work, make sure our children are able to participate in all kinds of extracurricular activities and look after aging parents, and the list suddenly becomes overwhelming, and religion, well it will just have to take its place in line. Jesus described us well when he said that

"other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants." 

12.  “People going to church for recreation and in conformity to custom.”  

we all know that sometimes the message of Christ does not get through because of the person entrusted with conveying it. The most famous example of that, of course, was Mahatma Gandhi. In his autobiography Gandhi tells that during his early days in South Africa he inquired into Christianity. He attended a certain church in Pretoria for several Sundays, but, he writes, “The congregation did not strike [him] as being particularly religious; they were not an assembly of devout souls, but appeared rather to be worldly-minded people going to church for recreation and in conformity to custom.” He therefore concluded that there was nothing in Christianity which he did not already possess. Gandhi was driven away from Christianity by the fact that the performance of Christians he met fell far short of their profession of faith. (G. T. Bellhouse, The Hand of Glory, pp. 7, 8).

13.  Life is filled with choices between grains and weeds. 

There is an old Native American tale about a chief who was telling a group of young braves about the struggle within. "It's like two dogs fighting," said the chief. "One dog wants to do right. The other dog wants to do wrong. They growl at each other all the time." "Which is going to win?" inquired a young brave. "The one you feed," replied the chief. Verse 8 says, "Still other seed fell on good soil where it produced a crop, a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown." 

14.   “Some seeds fell on  ‘good soil’" 

They are people who are receptive to the Good News of Christ. They understand that faith is not meant to be an add-on. It is not a burden you carry in addition to other burdens. When we open ourselves to Christ and say to him, "All I am, all I have, all I hope to be, I give to you," we discover a sudden lifting of all our burdens. Then we restructure our priorities according  to  our  faith  commitment.  Dr.  Tom  Kim  did  that.  Dr.  Kim  is  the Korean-born grandson of a Presbyterian minister. Arriving in the United States, his family settled in Knoxville, TN. He chose a small Christian college to attend. Kim wanted to be a medical missionary to Korea. When he prepared to attend Korean medical schools, despite being accepted at Indiana University, his mother was opposed. "She never wanted to go back and didn't want me to either," Kim says. Evidently his mother's wishes prevailed, because when he finished Korean medical school he returned to Knoxville and has been practicing internal medicine, hematology and oncology since 1979.  The unique  thing  about  Dr. Kim's office is that he does not charge the uninsured or the working poor. "My father became a physician because he didn't want to be so poor as his father, the minister. But he still had the faith, and I do, too. I finally realized that I didn't have to go so far to find people in  need that I could minister to." Dr. Kim estimates that he has seen 1,000 poor patients. When he began this policy five years ago, he set aside two extra hours a night for treating nonpaying patients after each of four days of regular office hours. Now, all his patients, both insured and uninsured, are seen throughout the work days. "I give them free everything. Sometimes I have free samples from drug companies for giving medicine. Sometimes I give them a check to buy medicine." For patients with ailments he can't treat, Dr. Kim makes referrals. Dr. Kim says that most of his free patients could get nowhere if they made the referral calls, but he can! "I explain this patient is without insurance and ask if they can't treat them and work out something on payment." Kim says donating his time is a way of repaying his debt to the U.S. where he's "prospered so much." “I got a talent--curing sick people--and I want to use it to do a little of what Jesus did. I don't want to be a Sunday-only  Christian."  (Knoxville,  TN  News-Sentinel 7 -11-98,  p.  A4,  "Doctor Ministers to Poor.") 

15.  "You see that fire in there?” 

The Tennessee Valley Authority started building its many dams on the Tennessee River in 1930s. To do that, they had to relocate a number of people who were living in the area that would be flooded when the dams were finished. One family in particular lived in an old, ramshackle cabin. The TVA built them a beautiful split-level ranch home on the hill overlooking the location of their former home. But when the Authority came to help the family move, they refused to go. The engineers tried to reason with them and, when that did not work, they called the project manager in. He failed, too. Finally, the TVA brought in a social worker. She asked the family to tell her the reason they did not want to move. The father of the clan pointed to the fireplace and said, "You see that fire in there? My grandpa built that fire 100 years ago when no one in these parts had matches. So he made the family promise to never let it go out. He tended it as long as he could and then my father took over and kept it going while he was alive. And, now that it's my responsibility, I am not about to let it go out." That gave the social worker an idea. She asked the family if it would be all right if the TVA brought in a coal bin and transported the burning coals from the cabin to the new house up on the hill. That way, they would have the same fire in their new home. The family huddled together to discuss the suggestion and decided that would be acceptable. And so that family was moved out of the way before the river came and covered their old cabin. Have you ever felt that it was absolutely and utterly up to you, against all opposition, to keep the fire going (no matter what "the fire" might be)? If you have, you are certainly not alone. The situation being addressed in this morning's gospel parable    is along that line. Matthew's gospel was compiled and distributed probably some fifty years after Christ's earthly ministry (around 85 AD). The early church had expanded beyond Jerusalem through the missionary efforts of Paul and others but was still rather minuscule in terms of numbers and influence. There was opposition and even some persecution at the hands of political and religious establishments. It was a time when discouragement could have easily overcome that small band of believers. Hence, Mathew included the parables of chapter 13 in his gospel ("earthly stories with heavenly meanings"), perhaps to motivate and encourage the preaching and practice of the good news in the face of opposition. (David E. Leininger).

16.  Raccoon and opossum story:

Doug Murren, in Churches That Heal (1999), retells that old Native American tale of an opossum watching a seed grow. One day an opossum visited his good friend, a raccoon, at his home near the river. The opossum marveled at his friend's lush garden and asked if he could grow one like it. The raccoon assured the opossum he could do so, although he cautioned him, "It is hard work." The opossum eagerly vowed to do the hard work necessary, then asked for and received some seeds. He rushed home with his treasure, buried them amid much laughter and song, went inside to clean up, ate, and went to bed. The next morning he leapt from bed to see his new garden. Nothing. The ground looked no different than it had the day before! Furious with anger and frustration, the opossum shouted at his buried seeds, "Grow, seeds, grow!" He pounded the ground and stomped his feet. But nothing happened. Soon a large crowd of forest animals gathered to see who was making all the commotion and why. The raccoon came to investigate with all the others. "Wait a minute, Possum," he said. "You can't make the seeds grow. You can only make sure they get sun and water, then watch them do their work. The life is in the seed, not in you." As the truth sank in, the opossum ceased his yelling and began to care for the seeds as the raccoon instructed, watering them regularly and  getting  rid  of  any  weeds  that  invaded  his  garden.  Then  one  glorious morning the opossum wandered outside to see that multitudes of beautiful green sprouts dotted his garden. Just  a  few days later,  gorgeous flowers began  to bloom. With uncontrollable excitement and pride, the opossum ran to his friend, the raccoon, and asked him to witness the miracle. The raccoon took one long look at the thriving garden and said, "You see, Opossum, all you had to do was let the seeds do the work while you watched." "Yes," smiled the opossum, finally remembering the wise words of his friend many days before, "but it's a hard job watching a seed work." Doug Murren concludes: "There's a lesson there for all of us. Sometimes, as Christians and church leaders, we work too hard and take ourselves too seriously instead of simply planting people in the proper environment and letting them grow." (Doug Murren, in Churches That Heal: Howard Publishing, 1999], 13-14, 15.)

17.  Mallard duck hunting:  

The Reverend Jerry Anderson, a retired pastor in Tennessee, was an avid duck hunter as a young man.  Every fall when the first cold front moved in from the north, he would take out his duck decoys, clean them up and put new anchors on them. When duck season opened, he was ready.   He and his dad usually hunted mallards.   Now, mallards are puddle ducks, according to Reverend Anderson. They paddle around in shallow water and feed on the marsh grasses growing there.  They eat only what they can reach from the surface.  Occasionally, though, he and his dad    would see a redhead or canvasback slipping into their decoys.   These are diving ducks.   They dive to great depths to feed on plants growing on the bottom of the lake. Now in some ways Anderson says, Christians are like those ducks.  Some are puddle ducks, satisfied with the nourishment they find in the shallows of the Christian life. Others are divers. They plunge deeply into the Word through study, reflection, and participation in the life and ministry of their church.   According to the parable of the sower the word yields a rich return in their lives.

18.  God’s vegetable seed store: 

This is the story of the fussy vegetarian.  A young woman was committed to being a vegetarian, but she was never satisfied with any of the fruit or vegetables she bought.  For her, all melons were too ripe, or not ripe enough, tomatoes bruised, heads of cauliflower and broccoli were too big or too little. Then one day, driving down Tarpon Avenue, she drove past a new store with a long line of people waiting to get in.  She looked, and the sign said, God’s Fruit  and Vegetable  Stand.  “Finally,”  she said, “I can  get  some decent vegetables and fruit.” So she stood on line and waited.  Hours went by before she walked through that door.  She was enveloped in light, but she didn’t see any apples or oranges or tomatoes or cabbage, or anything to buy.  She walked to the light, and there was a counter there.  And behind the counter, there stood God.  She could tell it was God because of the light, and because he had an apron on with a big G on it. Anyway, she placed her order, “I would like some perfect broccoli, and some perfect carrots, some perfect tomatoes and a perfect melon.  Also, if you have perfect Brussels sprouts, that would really be a miracle.” “Sorry,” God said, “I only sell seeds here.” Actually, God doesn’t sell seeds, He gives seeds to us. The seeds are his Word in its many expressions. But we have to do something with this precious gift. It simply is not enough just to hear the Word of God. We have to let it grow within us and influence our lives enabling us live like the People of the Word (Fr. Joseph Pellegrino) (http://www.homilies.net/e/E -08-07-13.asp

19.  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings:  

In a recently televised interview, Maya Angelou (b.1928), one of the great voices of contemporary American literature, told of a childhood tragedy that had a profound and lasting impact on her life. When she was seven years old, Angelou was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Because the man threatened that he would kill her brother if she told anyone what had happened, she told no one. But her brother, sensitive to his sister’s sadness and pain, eventually convinced Angelou to share with him her private horror. When she did, the man at fault was arrested, jailed for a short time, and then released. Not long thereafter he was found dead, kicked to death by unknown assailants. The rapists young victim, believing that her words had perpetrated the man’s death entered into a self-imposed silence and did not speak a word for six years. Later in life, Angelou would give voice to the silence and suffering of those six years in her book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Her appreciation of the power and effectiveness of the words is reflective of a similar understanding of the word of God in scripture. (Patricia Datchuck Sánchez) L/11