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The Fruitful Word

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (A). Fr Aidan Nichols  asks 'what is the Word of the Kingdom?' 

Today’s Gospel is the parable of the Sower and the Seed, along with our Lord’s interpretation of his own words, according to the evangelist St Matthew. In that interpretation, Jesus makes it plain that the subject of the parable is the ‘Word of the Kingdom’. What is that ‘Word’? With the riches of the entire New Testament and the tradition of the Church at our disposal, how are we to understand this term which gives the parable its key?

My answer comes via a series of steps. To begin with: in Christianity, ‘the Word’ has become a way of referring to the biblical message generally. That’s not so surprising, since many passages of the Old Testament started out life as oracles – moments of inspiration when a word from the Lord came to the mind of a prophet such as Isaiah or Jeremiah. More important for us, precisely as Christians, however, are the books of the New Testament. For us, the Old Testament is authoritative insofar as it is bound up with the New and comes to fulfillment in it. And, as in today’s Gospel, the New Testament tells us of the original message of Jesus: how it was delivered and to whom, and how the first hearers responded. ‘The Word’ here will be, then, the message Jesus preached about his Father and the Father’s plan for the world, during his public ministry in the towns and villages of Judaea and Galilee.

But what the Word of God in the New Testament has to tell us about the Word that Jesus preached is not the whole of what the Scriptures have to say about the Christ. The apostolic proclamation carries a wider message about the significance of his Passion and Death, his Resurrection and Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit – topics which go well beyond our Lord’s words and actions during the ministry (though, of course, they also come out of those words and actions). On the basis of these great events, the apostolic Word includes the claim that, in Jesus Christ, God himself has become incarnate in his own creation, to reconcile us to him, and raise us up to share his own divine life. To that apostolic Word we commit ourselves, mind and heart, when we confess our faith in saying or singing the Creed.

And because Jesus, the Father’s only Son, is himself this reconciling and redemptive initiative of God, he too – so it turns out – can be called ‘the Word’, as St John does in the Prologue of his Gospel and his Letters. In his own person Jesus Christ is the communication of God – he is the Word of God in person. What he not only said and did but actually is – his personal reality, as the crucified and glorified Lord – continues to be available in the Church where he remains present through his Spirit, who, as he promised, would not only ‘remind’ disciples of all he had said to them but also lead them into ‘all the truth’. This means that the Church is the Church of the Word, or, better still, the Church is the Church of the Word and of the Spirit. With the help of the Spirit it is her task gradually to unfold the riches of the Word, and to make those riches available to us in doctrine and the Liturgy, in catechisms and in sacred art, and in the lives of her saints.

By immersing ourselves as deeply as possible into all that, we let the Word of the Kingdom bear fruit in our lives, for time and for eternity. Just like the parable implies. And this is what all true spirituality is about. Spirituality is the response of man to the divine Word – the Word revealed in Scripture, embodied in Jesus Christ and made accessible to us, for our profit, in all the ways the Church of God knows how.

Readings: Isaiah 55:10-11 | Romans 8:18-23 | Matthew 13:1-23

Aidan Nichols O.P.

fr Aidan Nichols is resident in the Priory of St Michael the Archangel in Cambridge. He is a well-known and prolific writer and theologian.   aidan.nichols@english.op.org

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