The inspired words of Isaiah in today’s first reading are worth special consideration. He talks about how the rain waters the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats. Water does all that?
Let’s consider first the physical properties of water. It can exist in three states: liquid, solid (ice) or gas (steam). It has great surface tension—try pouring it out of a glass or cup without it dribbling down the side. It is cohesive—it does not separate easily. It is adhesive—it clings to many types of surfaces and is easily absorbed by others. You can see its capillary property by dipping the end of a strip of paper in a glass of water and watch it slowly climb its way up. It is this capillary action that helps a plant’s root system suck up water for nourishment. As plants grow they breathe in the carbon dioxide we breathe out and exhale the oxygen we inhale, all the while producing flowers or fruit or shade or seeds for birds or nectar for bees. Once the plant finishes using the water it has take in, it returns that moisture to the atmosphere.
The parallels between water and the word of God should be obvious but it’s worth exploring. We hold the word in our hands in the solid form of the Bible. We drink it into our hearts when we read it. The word passes like air from the proclaimer’s mouth to our ears. It is cohesive—it holds itself together without any internal contradiction. Its capillary-like action allows us to take it in easily and it adheres to our hearts and minds—it doesn’t want to leave. As water softens the earth so too can the word of God soften my heart, making it more permeable to the word’s nourishing properties.
Water is essential to life. Scientists do not understand completely the many chemical properties of water and its actions within our bodies but they know we cannot go more than a week without it. How the word of God works in us internally is even more mysterious. We know that it gives life, but equally important is how we return it to God. My words, my actions, my attitudes all comprise my gift back to God but only after His word has completed its mysterious work within me so that I can be the good soil that grows the plant that produces fruit 30, 60, 100-fold.