They say that there are three things that make a nice home into a truly pleasant place to live; three things that make a properly run business into a really prosperous enterprise; three things that turn a place with good food into a great restaurant. Those three things are, of course, "location, location, and location." Things may be fine otherwise, but if they are in the wrong location they do poorly or even utterly fail.
Our Lord's parable today uses this same idea as an allegory of the spiritual life. The sower sows good seed -- there is no question of weeds here, like we heard about a few weeks ago -- God's word and all of God's creation are inherently good. But once in the world, that good seed may scattered by any number of forces and come to rest in any number of locations. And, just as the sower's seeds may trampled by men, eaten by birds, crowded out by thorns, or dry up for lack of moisture, God's rational creatures can receive His word only to loose it to the illusions of the devil, or to natural temptations, or to a preoccupation with the "cares, and the riches, and the pleasures of life." Unless something is done, only a fraction of the sower's seed will fall on good ground and bring forth the planted crop -- only a fraction of those souls who hear the word of God will do so with "goodness of heart" and bring forth the fruit of salvation.
Our Lord's description of earthly affairs is correct, of course. If we take the Christians of any given era, we will find some that fit into each of the categories described in the parable. Some will hear the word of God and draw spiritual profit from it. A few will draw a great deal of profit -- others less -- and some will draw no profit at all because of their "location" relative to the devil or to the cares and attractions of the world. In every past era, God gave every Christian the necessary graces, so that all could have been saved -- but when we look back in retrospect, we generally see a number of people who refused to cooperate with God's graces. While we cannot judge the state of anyone's soul, we can say objectively that such people endangered, and may have lost, their immortal salvation. And it is relatively safe to say that the same scattering of God's good seed will continue to take place in the future.
But on the personal level of the individual, things are not so fatalistically determined. The difference between humans hearing the word of God and the good seed sown by the sower is that we are capable of overcoming the chance situations of life. If we are on the footpath we don't have to await being trodden upon or eaten by the birds; if we fall among the thorns we don't have to sit back and wait until being choked out. The operative distinction is that no matter what our situation in the world might be, we creatures with free will and intellect can do something to better it. Unlike the seed that simply must stay put until acted upon by the forces of the world, we, so to speak, can change our location. Supported by God's grace, we are capable of walking away from the devil, of distancing ourselves from temptation, and of separating ourselves from preoccupation with material things.
Obviously, this "spiritual change of location" takes some effort. Often enough we find that the things we know to be bad for us are difficult to give up and hard to move away from. Sometimes the effort has to go on for a life time -- indeed, it almost always has to go on for a life time, for that is the nature of the spiritual life -- we must always move forward, otherwise we will fall backwards. If we become complaisant in the thought that we have solved our problems, we probably have not.
It is interesting to speculate about Saint Paul. We know that at one time he was an anti-Christian, a persecutor even of those attached to Christ. What do you think would have happened if, after being knocked down on the road to Damascus by our Lord, he had done nothing more than go to the house of Ananias to be baptized, and then went back to Tarsus to pursue his trade as a tent maker? Do you think that Paul the tent maker could have sustained the same spiritual life as Paul the Apostle? Isn't it possible that -- if Paul had not set out on the incredible adventure that we heard about this morning -- that Paul might have wound up in the "wrong spiritual location," that Paul might have become one of those seeds that withered or was choked out by the cares of the world?
Paul's story seems a bit extreme to us -- probably because few people are driven to his heroic heights of sanctity -- but, nonetheless, it is instructive for us. To be in the "right spiritual location" we have to be continuously on the move. We can and we must imitate Paul -- at least in substance, if not in degree. That is the purpose of our annual Lenten observance -- to accustom ourselves to acting habbitually for God's glory, and for our salvation, and for the wellbeing and salvation of those around us -- to train ourselves to put up with the difficulties and setbacks and temptations of life, while ever moving closer to God.
Paul, we know, made several journeys about the Mediterranean. But, for most of us, the changes we have to make in our "spiritual location" are not geographical. They don't require a passport or journeys on a ship. They may never even take us outside of our home and immediate neighborhood. But they are real "journeys" nonetheless. And, once again, Lent is the time to begin them and to lay plans for future adjustments of "spiritual location."
Finally, let me point out another connection between Saint Paul and today's Gospel. The "good seed," we are told is "the word of God." Paul went about the known world trying to make sure that the "good seed" was planted everywhere. Yet, there are many people out there in the world who have never heard the word of God, or at least never heard it stated in such a way as to convince them of the need to act upon it. We ought to consider reaching some of those people as part of our own spiritual growth. Not everybody can be an active missionary preacher like Saint Paul, but we can all know our Faith and practice it publicly, so that the good example of the Christian life can do the preaching for us, and we can all pray for the propagation of the Faith.
We have the opportunity to change our "spiritual location" so that our "good seed" can bear abundant fruit. It takes effort on our part and we are often weak, so don't ever forget the words of God to Saint Paul: "My grace is sufficient for thee; My strength is made perfect in thy weakness."