Podcast: Preaching the kingdom of God when justice is delayed on earth
”We will never solve the crisis of preaching in the Catholic Church, unless we emphasize that the preacher needs to be someone who is constantly learning about the Scriptures and what they mean in their context, but also that the preacher needs to be a person of prayer.” says Father Bryan Massingale. “Someone who stands in the pulpit as an authentic faith witness who wrestles with who God is.”
Bryan is a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and presently lives and works in New York City as a professor of theology at Fordham University. He is a leader in the quest for faith-based racial and sexual justice, especially within the Catholic Church, and regularly presides and preaches at the The Parish of St. Charles Borromeo
Resurrection and All Saints, the mother church for Black Catholics in the Archdiocese of New York. This year is the 40th anniversary of priestly ordination.
It is little known, but Bryan is also a huge fan of Star Trek. “I have books on the physics of Star Trek, the philosophy of Star Trek, the theology of Star Trek. I have blueprints for the Starship Enterprise,” he says. “Anything with Star Trek is a sure home-run with me.”
Listen to Bryan’s homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, on this week’s episode of “Preach.” After the homily, he shares with host Ricardo da Silva, S.J., a less-rehearsed reading of the well-known parable of the sower in the Gospel of Matthew.
The preacher is someone who stands in the pulpit as an authentic faith witness who wrestles with who God is.
Scripture Readings for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
First Reading: Is 55:10-11
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14
Second Reading: Rom 8:18-23
Gospel: Mt 13:1-23
You can find the full text of the readings here.
Recommended preaching resources
- Preaching the New Lectionary: Year A, Dianne Bergant, Liturgical Press, 2001, 488pp.
- Parables of Jesus, Joachim Jeremias, SCM Press, 2003, 201pp.
Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, by Bryan N. Massingale
What do you do when you give your all – and it just isn’t enough?
Sooner or later, most of us encounter situations where the task we face seems beyond our ability. Or worse, when all do seems futile. Whether in relationships. Or parenting. Or at work. There’s that sinking feeling when we wonder: “What’s the use?” “Why do I bother?” “Why keep going?” “All this work? All this effort? And, for what?”
There are times when our best efforts don’t seem to make a difference. And it’s hard to keep going. Because nothing we do seems to matter. So why bother?
What do you do when you give your all and it isn’t enough?
This is the situation that’s underneath today’s gospel. The story is deceptively familiar. A farmer sows seeds that fall on all different types of ground. And some of us, perhaps many of us, have heard homilies where preachers—or retreat leaders—usually pose the challenge or the question: What kind of soil are you? Are you the rocky ground that the gospel cannot penetrate? Or the shallow soil that lacks depth—which is, of course, the most popular answer since no one of us is completely faithful, and honesty forbids us from claiming to be the good soil. But at least we can take credit for not being the roadway or the path and allowing our seeds to be swallowed by birds—unlike those who aren’t even bothering to be in church this morning to hear the gospel. But this focus is misplaced.
Because the parables of Jesus are not about us—at least not directly. Jesus tells the parables to describe the reign of God and what the reign of God is about. The reign of God, which some describe as the dream of God, or God’s vision. Jesus tells parables to describe God’s vision of the world and how God wants things to be for us. And God’s Vision can be summed up in the word: Shalom. You often translate this word as “peace.” But which means so much more.
The parables of Jesus are not about us—at least not directly.
Shalom is a state of wholeness and well-being, where no one lacks for essential needs, where all have what they need for full and abundant life. Shalom, in short, is the way things ought to be. That’s the reign of God. That’s God’s dream. That’s God’s vision.
So to describe this way of God, this dream of God, Jesus tells a parable that is true to life and one that Jesus’ hearers would be familiar with. For first century Palestinian sowers did not plough or prepare the ground before planting or sowing seeds. (There were no mechanized tractors that we use today). They simply scattered seeds as they walked. And thus everyone knew there would be a certain amount of waste. Everyone knew of the obstacles to a successful harvest: the birds absconding with the seed; the shallow ground unable to sustain a proper crop; the thorns that strangled the fledgling plants. And so in light of this, the hearers knew what to expect. A sevenfold harvest was considered pretty typical. A tenfold harvest was considered really good and a cause of celebration.
And so the Gospel today turns upon an amazing contrast between the present frustrations and the awesome fulfillment. The punch line of the story lies in the over-the-top harvest. This is what is truly astonishing for the original hearers: a harvest that is 30-fold (amazing!), 60-fold (astounding!), 100-fold (breath-taking!). Jesus' hearers would have heard the story in amazement. No one would dare to hope for such an outcome from their farming practices. Jesus' conclusion is so over the top so as to be outrageous.
God’s dream, God’s vision, cannot but happen.
And that’s the point. God’s dream, God’s vision is like a sower who acts, knowing all of the challenges to his goal, to his project. And yet still the sower acts because she is confident of the abundant realization. And because of that confidence, because of this assurance, the sower acts now, despite it all, to realize the dream, confident that it will succeed beyond all expectation.
The kingdom of heaven–God’s dream–is like a sower who acts, knowing all of the challenges to the vision yet confident of its future abundant realization. This parable doesn’t ask, What kind of ground are you? No, the challenge, the invitation, is to become like the sower: to not be defined by present obstacles, to not let the choking thorns or scorching heat define what’s possible for us. No, we are summoned to define ourselves by the harvest to come, and to act now to bring it about. Because God’s dream, God’s vision, cannot but happen.
So, what do you do when you give your all, and it seems not enough?
I don’t know about you, but I need this assurance, this hope that we find in the gospel. Because especially as a Black Catholic, and as a people who long for a justice and a shalom that is too often delayed or denied, we can often wonder, what’s the use? There are times when it all seems so futile.
I remember three years ago, after the murder of George Floyd and the justice protests that happened across the nation, people kept asking me: “Are we at a turning point?”, “Do you think that things will be different?”, “Are you hopeful?”.
But let’s look at what’s happened in those three years. In those three years, we’ve seen laws passed that limit education about our racial history. In those three years, we see books dealing with racial justice being removed from school libraries. In those three years, we’ve seen innocent Black people massacred by a white teenager while grocery shopping, simply because of their race. In those three years, we see Black women die in childbirth at rates that surpass those in developing countries. In those three years, a 16-year-old boy in Kansas City was shot and seriously wounded simply because he was lost and rang a doorbell. All of that, three years later…is this what we have to show for all of our efforts?
Especially as a Black Catholic, and as a people who long for a justice and a shalom that is too often delayed or denied, we can often wonder, what’s the use?
It is tempting to look at the circling birds, the stony hearts, the thorny soil, the scorching heat of racial resentments, fears, and resistance, and truly wonder—even despair–about the possibility of something truly new, of an abundant harvest of shalom.Today’s parable gives us a way of acting with confident assurance in God’s vision. Because the parable does not ask for a suspension of reality; the parable frankly acknowledges the frustrations, challenges and obstacles to the vision’s realization.
Yet even with all of these, the sower still sows, the sower still acts, the sower still keeps going. Because God’s dream, God’s vision, God’s reign cannot and will not be denied. The sower shows us the promise of acting, even when the obstacles to our vision are all too real.
God’s dream, God’s vision, God’s reign cannot and will not be denied.
This dogged, persistent hope—our faith conviction to act despite it all—is well expressed in the African American tradition by a classic poem by the Renaissance poet, Langston Hughes. The poem is entitled, “Mother to Son.” So let’s listen to this mother’s admonition and encouragement to her despondent son:
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
So, what do you do when all you do seems not to be enough?
We come to the table to receive the Eucharist. We take Jesus into ourselves and we receive the strength to act, the strength to keep acting, the strength to build God’s reign of shalom. Despite the obstacles we face. The reign of God is like a sower sowing seed, acting now in light of what will be, acting now to bring about tomorrow’s harvest of shalom, acting now out of an overwhelming confidence in God’s fulfilling the dream and vision.
That is our hope. That is our hope. And the Eucharist is our strength.
Let the church say: Amen.
“Preach” is made possible through the generous support of the Compelling Preaching Initiative, a project of Lilly Endowment Inc.