|07 - Parable of Sower and Baptism, Oct 15, 2017|
For audio, click here
Hebrews 13:7-16 (Fathers)
II Corinthians 11:31-12:9 (Sunday)
John 17:1-13 (Fathers)
Luke 8:5-15 (Sunday)
When a mother gives birth, why does the Church pray over her: “In sins did my mother conceive me” (Ps 50:5, LXX)? The mother knows from what she felt when she first held her newborn at her breast that her giving birth was not sinful!
Giving birth is to be sure a most sacred moment. The mother knows intuitively that she has participated with God in His creation, even as Eve said when she bore her firstborn: “I have created a man through God” (cf. Gn 4:1).
Yet, from the moment we are conceived, we are at risk of every kind of malformation, and our life ends in death. In this is manifested the corruption of our nature at its spiritual root, in the heart. The prayer over the mother at the birth of her child brings into view the unseen spiritual “world” as the soil in which the visible, material world is rooted. In the flesh, we are conceived not in the righteousness of God, which is deathless, but in spiritual exile outside the Garden, in spiritual soil contaminated by what St Ephrem calls greed, St Paul covetousness, St Maximus self-love, the prophets idolatry. Conceived in a nature corrupted by the sins of our ancestors, we all suffer the consequences – physical, psychological and spiritual – of our ancestors’ sins, and we by our own sins are the cause of suffering in our children.
And so, at childbirth, the Church prays for the forgiveness of the sins of the mother and all those in her household, covering the newborn infant, the mother and the family it has been born into, with the “omophor” of the Theotokos and her Beloved Son, Our LORD Jesus Christ, until such time that the newborn is ready for the mystery of Holy Baptism, when it will be born not in sins but in the Paschal Mystery of its Virgin Mother, the Church, in whom sins are washed away and the tomb of our heart is made the bridal chamber of the new birth from above as children of God, a new creation.
In the mystery of Holy Baptism, we invoke the same Holy Spirit who was brooding over the face of the waters at creation in the beginning on Day One. The curtain and Royal Doors open. “Blessed is our God is intoned,” and the faithful gathered round the font, who have eyes to see, find themselves on Day One, “in the Beginning”. In the WORD of the Church, in the icon of the flaming candles dipped into the waters of the font, the Spirit descends into the visible waters of the font and joins them to the mystical waters of creation.
There is an ancient image of the Church, the Robe of Light. Illumined by this image, we see in our Gospel this morning a parable of Theophany. The Sower, it says, is the WORD of God. But, in another place, the LORD likens Himself to a seed that must be sown in the earth and die to bear fruit (Jn 12:24). And so, the WORD of God (Lk 8:11) is both the Sower and the Seed that is Sown. But, St John tells us that the WORD of God is the Life of God, the Spirit, who is the Light of men (cf. Jn 1:4) with which Adam and Eve were clothed at their creation, and which they lost when they fell. The Sower and the Seed, then, is the Life of God in whom is the Light of men, the Spirit or the Robe of Light. The Life of God goes forth from the Virgin in His Robe of Light and puts on the robe of our humanity He received from her. In that robe, He Who Is the Resurrection and the Life descends into the Jordan and lays down His Robe of Light for those who would descend into the waters of baptism to clothe themselves.
Now, St JnBapt said: “I baptize you with water, but He is coming who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with Fire” (Mt 3:11). And, using imagery not unlike that of the sower sowing his seed, the LORD says in another place, in reference to His Baptism and to His Cross: “I am come to cast Fire on the earth” (Lk 12:49). The Seed of the Sower, then, is the Robe of Light that falls on us in our baptism; and, the Robe of Light that we put on at our baptism is the uncreated Fire of the Holy Spirit that cleanses and purges, refines and purifies. Indeed, this Uncreated Fire of God is given to us as our food and drink in the sacramental mystery of the Church: “We have found the True Light (the Robe of Light at our Baptism); we have received the Heavenly Spirit (the Uncreated Fire of God).”
Here, then, in the waters of the baptismal font, we come upon another ancient image of the Church: the burning bush that was not consumed, the mystery of the Blessed Virgin. She conceived, not by the seed of man – let’s say, not by the self-loving desire of man – but by the Spirit of God, in her womb the self-emptying WORD or Seed of God, and she became the Burning Bush. She became all Light, all Fire. And she was not consumed, or destroyed. She became Panagia, All-Holy; she became Theotokos.
Now, we made an oath at our baptism: “I unite myself to Christ!” Listen again to Jeremiah: “The heart is the man!” (17:5) In explaining the meaning of His parable this morning, Our LORD clearly identifies His Seed as His Word and the earth as the human heart (Lk 8:12), or our true self. If I am to unite my self to Christ, I must willfully and intentionally receive the Uncreated Fire of the Robe of Light into the womb of my heart and so become, like Our Mother, the Theotokos, a burning bush. I must deny myself, take up my cross and follow Jesus as my King and my God into the tomb of my heart, there to lose my life for His sake that I may find it, in Him, in the Righteousness, the eternal life of His Holy Resurrection. The ascetic disciplines of the Church are the cross our Mother, the Theotokos, gives to us that we may be united to Christ in the likeness – in the intimacy of the image and likeness of God in which we were created – of His death and Resurrection.
Our heart is like the earth in that it receives the Word of God like the earth receives the seed. But, our heart is not like the earth in that our heart has a will by which she can choose where she will place herself: either beside the Path, or on the rock, or in the weeds and thistles, or in the good (v. 8) and beautiful (v. 15) soil – i.e., in the Body, the Church, of the Divine WORD of God incarnate, who is the “good” soil in His humanity and the “beautiful” soil in His divinity.
The Psalmist says: “Sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be purified, cause me to hear joy and gladness (Ps 50:7-8 LXX). The ear is the organ of the heart. In the self-love of our idolatry, we had ears but we could not hear. When we put on the Robe of Light in our baptism, our heart was raised from death to life; i.e., the will of our heart, corrupted by the ancestral sin, was healed and our inner ears were opened, so that we can, if we want to, act according to this will and not the will of the flesh. It is by this will of the heart, raised to life in the Fire of the Robe of Light, that we place our heart in the good and beautiful soil by turning our inner ear again and again to listen, to be “attentive” to the WORD of God burning in the Robe of Light that we put on at our baptism. That Robe of Light, understand, is the Body of Christ incarnate in His Holy Church. It is woven from the threads of Fire that burn in every word, every prayer, every sacrament, every movement of the Church so that we wear the Fire as our Robe when with our inner ear we place our heart in the soil of the Church.
This Fire burning in the Robe of Light that we put on at our baptism is the living and active WORD of God, Christ Jesus Himself, who is sharper than any two-edged sword. If we would listen to it with our inner ear, it would penetrate our soul all the way into our spirit to discern the thoughts and intentions of our heart (cf. Heb 4:12). Christ Himself would come and abide in our heart as Fire sprinkle our heart with hyssop until we are purified and become, like His Mother, the Theotokos, a burning bush that is not consumed. He would cleanse us from every impurity, heal us of every addiction and passion of soul and body. He would rebuild the walls of Jerusalem; i.e., make us “living stones” in the Holy Temple of His Glorified Body. Then, would we offer young bullocks on His altar, the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, eucharist that springs spontaneously from a heart transfigured, aflame in the love and the joy of the LORD; because no more are we just robed with Fire; we have received it into the soil of our heart and we are becoming Fire. Amen!