The Revd Antonio Garcia Fuerte
I have been following with a lot of interest in the last few weeks, the news about EU citizens' rights following Brexit. While some here in the UK say that the government is offering a “blank cheque” to the EU in this regard, European Prime Ministers say that the UK’s offer is “unspecific,” “ambiguous,” “slippery” and “abstract.”
I don’t agree with the Press that thinks this is “hardball” play. The rights offered by the UK to EU citizens living here will need to be reciprocated by the EU to UK citizens abroad. Therefore, it makes no sense talking of hardball in this context, because we would be playing hardball not against the EU but against our fellow Brits living abroad.
So how come then that the understanding of what is on offer is so diametrically opposed?
For someone like me who has lived now for 14 years in between “two worlds”, I see how different the British and Spanish legal systems can be. The Spanish system is based on the idea that, if something is not explicitly forbidden by law, you can get away with it. Hence the laws are extremely casuistic in painful detail. In Britain, however, the law tends to set much more generic principles, and expect them to be applied with common sense into specific situations.
So going back to the example of the UK/EU Citizens' rights proposal, my take on it is that, what the EU is hearing as an abstract proposal, is, for us, a generous offer of ample protection of rights. And where we read the EU proposals, we see specific (maybe even little) assurance, but the lack of an overall direction.
The goals are the same, what we want to achieve is the same, but the words with which we build our laws are very different. What we are talking about here is our different understanding of our commitment with those words written down in a legal agreement. And I think in this occasion both sides are closer than they might know, if only they could look beyond the superficial meaning of words. Who will take the first step forward in good will?
And this is precisely what the Gospel today is talking about. We have all received the same Word of God but what is our understanding of our commitment to it? Are we ready to welcome the Word of God in good will?
To understand it, we need to stand back and look at the goal. We can easily get lost in the understanding of the content of the Word of God and discuss, as we do often in Church, how we understand the Word, and how we commit to it.
And yet, the beauty of this parable is not what it says about the Word of God, or even about the fruits of the Word. The real beauty about this parable is that the sower, God, plants his seed everywhere. A human sower would save the seeds for the best ground only. The human sower, to maximize returns, would prepare the ground carefully and save every seed to go only where it has the maximum chance of growing.
But that’s not the way God works. This sower in the parable plants his seed everywhere. He plants his seed in rocky ground. He plants his seed among thorns. And he plants his seed in good soil. He plants his seed in those of great faith, but also in those of little or no faith. He plants his seed in the banker, in the bus driver, in the priest, in the shopkeeper, in the parents, in the child… God plants his Word everywhere. God is the one who takes the first step forward in good will.
It is us who choose, it is up to us to choose to become good soil, or thorns, or rocky ground for that seed, for the Word of God.
How do we do this?
The first, and most important thing, is to know what seed is being planted. What is the Word of God? The Word of God is Christ himself, as the Gospel of John reminds us: “and the Word [of God] became flesh.” Christ himself is being planted as a seed in us. Christ, who is alive as a consequence of the Resurrection. Christ, who guides our hearts gently towards him.
The second thing, is that the seed is planted to grow into a tree and to produce fruits. Christ is the seed, but he is also the fruit, and he is the way towards that fruit. In other words, Christ really makes all the effort for us, once we have turned into good soil, that is, once we have chosen to accept him in our lives.
The most beautiful thing for me of this two years in St John’s is that, I look around, and I see in each one of you, gifts of God, that is, the fruits of a flourishing tree. I am not trying to patronize you - I am saying that God is at work in the midst of us, visibly, effectively, actively. And we must carry on working in bringing good will around us, to prepare the soil that receives the word of God, and prepare our own grown too.