Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty (Matthew 13:8).

Today’s Gospel records the story of the farmer who sowed seeds and got four different results. The difference lies in the fact that some seeds fell in places that did not provide the right kind of environment for their growth and so they failed to mature. One set of seed fell in soil that provided all that was needed for its growth and maturity. This set produced an abundant crop.

Each parable lends itself to a variety of interpretations and this morning I will use the parable of the Sower to teach us a lesson about life: Our ability to excel and to gain excellence in our pursuits is conditioned by the ‘environment’ in which we live, work and play. This concept can be related to the fourth set of seed: it produced an abundant harvest because it was sown in the right conditions.

All people aim for excellence in all spheres of their endeavours. All people have a desire to achieve the best in life and to be successful. When excellence is achieved it signifies that we have achieved our goals and we have a sense of fulfilment. In whatever situation we find ourselves there are certain ‘environmental’ conditions that are required if we are to excel and attain excellence in whatever we do. People who do not aim for excellence settle for mediocrity and become a liability to their church, family, place of employment or social interaction. Christianity challenges us to become the best we can; to aim for our fullest potential and to live an abundant life. In a nutshell, it says to us strive for excellence in your lives. Christians and people in general who settle for anything less than the best and fail to attain to excellence are not living out their full humanity. However, it must be stated that if the right conditions are not present it will be difficult if not impossible to motivate persons to aim for excellence. The environment in which we live, work and play, determines if excellence would be achieved.

Worship of God is essential for persons who seek excellence in their lives. In worship we offer our best to God and focus on the beauty of life. This focus helps us to honour God in all that we do and it has a positive affect on our living. St. Paul advises that what ever we do we must do it to the glory of God. In all aspects of life the Christian aims to please God in thought, word and deed. Worship of God informs our behaviour and relationship with people and the world around us.  The person who worships God treats every one as a brother or sister and is ever conscious of the requirement to do unto others as we would have them do to us. As such we aim for the best and give of the best in all our human pursuits. Excellence is a clarion call to be always at our best and not to do less than the best. Worship of God invites us to offer God the best and we offer God the best when we offer the best to our neighbour.

An environment of appreciation is vital for promoting excellence. What is appreciation? It is a process which allows us to express our admiration for the things people do. To let them know that we approve of their behaviour, actions and life styles. When we show our appreciation we make people feel welcome, we make them feel special and we add value to their lives. To appreciate some one is to show love and to honour the person.  St. Paul says “love one another with mutual affection.’ St. Peter says “honour everyone.” When people know that what they do is appreciated it motivates them to excel and they give of their best. Showing appreciation is two fold; the giver and the receiver both benefit.  Volataire said: “Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” If we want persons to achieve excellence and function at their maximum it is imperative that from time to time we create an atmosphere that would give us the opportunity to show our appreciation.

Respect is one of the fundamental principles of Christianity. Christianity teaches respect for people regardless of their race, gender or calling. The idea of respect is expressed in St. Peter’s first letter: "Honour all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king." (1 Peter 2:17-18). The Bible’s teaching on respect for people is beyond all doubt: widows, children, poor, aliens and strangers must be respected and cared for by all. To show respect to people is to recognise their value and worth. To show respect is to act with kindness, mercy, compassion and to be sensitive to persons needs. It is a fact, people fail to excel, fail to function at their maximum and fail to reach excellence when they are treated disrespectfully. Respect for people recognises their individuality and uniqueness and helps to establish personal and lasting relationships built on mutual respect.  Some may ask “What does respect have to do with excellence?” Do you want me to answer that question?  When respect is shown the seed of excellence will bring forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

If difference is neither properly understood nor managed it can be a disincentive to excellence. When difference is seen within the context of ‘more’ or ‘less’ it is leads to discrimination and prejudice. Difference does not make us ‘more human’ or ‘less human’ than others. An environment that accepts, fosters and values difference is essential for helping people to achieve excellence in their lives. We are all different; this is seen and experienced in our gender, colour, race, nationality, religious beliefs, education and the like. But difference cannot be used as an excuse to show favouritism and partiality. When difference is accepted as part of the human experience it removes our negative opinion of others and promotes equality. The notion of difference and acceptance is the central message of St. Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians, chapter 12. The parts of the body are not the same but they need each other. In a real sense difference makes us more. Difference can be a driving force for cooperation with each other in the sense that what I lack someone else has and what some one has I lack. A positive acceptance of difference can be an incentive to work for excellence.

There is a school of thought which subscribes to the idea that competition promotes the quest for excellence. Competition has its place, but it also has the potential for destroying and undermining the principle that we are our brother’s keeper. Competition does lead to mistrust, fear, envy, jealously, hatred and the like. It gives rise to self interest and individualism at the expense of the community; it does not always work in the interest of the common good.  Far from promoting excellence it can be a deterrent.  We must seek to create environments of trust and not competition as we encourage people to work for excellence; a trustful environment that frees people from fear and helps them to use their creative energies profitably; a trustful environment that promotes cooperation and human solidarity. Where there is trust, there is a willingness to work together; and where there is a willingness to work together, people will excel.

The dignity of the individual is paramount for the attainment of excellence. We have dignity and are people of value and worth because we are made in the image and likeness of God. To be made in God’s image is to be a person and not something to be used as a means to an end. People are more valuable than materialism. In fact there is no comparison between a person’s value and materialism. Technology is secondary to the person. Profit can never be placed above the value of the individual. People will aim for excellence in their places of work and play when it is recognised that they were not made to serve technology and economic systems but that technology and economics were made to serve them. ‘People first’ must be the mantra, the battle cry in this age of globalisation which treats people as things and not persons. Many people are not encouraged to aim for excellence because in many cases their self esteem, self value and self respect have been bruised and damaged, in some cases beyond repaired by the negative aspects of globalisation.  In an effort to encourage excellence in the work place and in all human endeavours, modern technology and our economic systems must be given a human face. Without the human face there will be no desire for excellence.

Without the right environment excellence remains an illusion and we are like the seeds that were eaten by the birds or scorched by the sun or choked by the thorns. Sown in the right conditions we sprout and become seeds of excellence that bring forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty (Matthew 13:8).


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