Each of today’s readings refers in some way to creation and the natural world, and also reveals something about the relationships between God and creation; man and creation; and creation and salvation.
The reading from the prophet Isaiah assumes, of course, that God is Creator and that he sustains all things by his might and mercy. The earth is watered and nourished by the rain and snow; thus it is “fertile and fruitful,” ready for the seed of the sower. Creation, in other words, has been made not only to sustain mankind, but to help us grow and thrive. But we also know that man, as Jesus told the devil in the desert, “does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3). God not only sends forth rain and snow, he also sends forth his word and, he says, my word “shall not return to me empty, but shall do what pleases me, achieving the end for which I sent it.”
The early Church Fathers understood this statement to be fulfilled in the sending of the Incarnate Word into the world. Yet, as we know from the Gospels and from our own experience, the world is not always receptive to the Word. However, St. John writes: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory” (Jn 1:14). Mary, the Apostles, the disciples — they not only saw the Word, they lived with him, walked with him and followed him.
The apostle Paul did not encounter the life-giving Word until after the Resurrection, but he was transformed thoroughly by Christ. “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation,” he wrote to the Corinthians, “the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17). Creation, he told the Romans, awaits the revelation “of the children of God.” Wounded by the Fall, creation anticipates being “set free from slavery to corruption.” Paul, in a remarkable turn of phrase, wrote, “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now.” The salvation of man is intimately connected with the salvation — the re-creation, if you will — of creation itself, an awesome mystery, that will somehow culminate in a “new heaven and a new earth” (Rv 21:1). And we, Paul explained, “groan within ourselves,” for we who are in Christ wait for adoption, “the redemption of our bodies.”
In commenting on the parable of the seed and the sower, Jesuit Father Richard Gutzwiller offers an insight further connecting these themes. Parables, he states, both reveal and hide. Using earthly images, often drawn from agricultural settings, Jesus conveyed heavenly realities, but in an indirect or cryptic way, drawing listeners into the mystery without blinding them with the pure light contained within. “Behind all of this,” explains Father Gutzwiller in “Day by Day with St. Matthew’s Gospel,” “lies the fact that the whole of creation is a parable about God.”
The natural world declares the glory of God; it points to the One who created, sustains, loves. In Jesus the supernatural enters the natural realm in a most singular way. And the Word, who is Creator, draws upon creation to reveal salvation and the kingdom. Just as the word of God is likened to a seed, Jesus connects the seed, in his parable, to the “word of the kingdom.” This seed is the “good news” of his saving death and resurrection, by which the kingdom is established and revealed.
Carl E. Olson is the editor of Catholic World Report.