|06 The Sower's Seed - October 15, 2006|
2 Corinthians 9:6-11
St Luke introduces Jesus’ telling of the story of the Sower by saying that Jesus went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. The twelve disciples were with him, as were also certain women whom he had healed of evil spirits and infirmities, who were providing for him from their material possessions or from their substance – as one could translate the Greek. There are intriguing indications, which I will set forth in just a moment, that St Luke intends for us to read Jesus’ story in light of the opening chapters of Genesis; in other words in light of our creation and our fall, and our recreation in Christ, the Second Adam.
Against the backdrop of Genesis, the disciples and the women who are with Jesus appear as the Church, the communion of those sons and daughters of Adam and Eve who have turned away from the serpent’s tree of the knowledge of good and evil and have chosen to follow Him who is the Wisdom and Knowledge of God, who comes to call the children of Adam and Eve in every city and village to the Tree of Life, the Cross, and to Him whom the Cross carries like a cluster of grapes full of life.
Eve was the mother of all living. She brings forth from her ‘substance’ all the children of the world and imparts to them the life that she and Adam ate when they partook of the serpent’s tree. This life, sired by the seed of the devil’s fruit who is a liar and a murderer from the beginning, produces thorns and thistles that grow from the ground that is now cursed. The life Eve imparts to her children from her substance is toxic, polluted with evil spirits and infirmities. The women who accompany Jesus have been healed of the serpent’s bitter fruit by the touch of Him who is the living fruit of the Tree of Life, and they now give of their substance to Christ. In this, they are icons of the blessed Virgin Mother, the Theotokos, the Second Eve who imparted to God the Word our humanity that he might become flesh and dwell among us, and so destroy the serpent’s curse and put to death the serpent’s life of lies and murder. And, they are icons of us who at our baptism faced the west, the setting sun, an icon of Christ’s dying on the Cross, and who spit the serpent’s fruit out of our mouths, then turned toward the East, the rising sun, to follow the risen Christ according to his command. With the women who accompany Jesus, those baptized into Christ now give to him of their substance; they lose their life, the life of the serpent, in Him, for the sake of the Gospel. They sell all that they have for the sake of the great treasure, which is Christ and the life of the Father, who is merciful, longsuffering and of great goodness, that Christ imparts in his Holy Spirit to those who receive him.
The twelve disciples, of course, are the Church’s episcopal hierarchy. Hierarchy means sacred root. The Church is hierarchical because her preaching and teaching are ‘rooted’ in the ‘sacred’ Seed of Christ, the Word of God, that has been sown in the field of the world through Christ’s Passion on the Cross, the Tree of Life, and whose sweet fruit, bursting with the life-giving waters, the juices, of God’s Heavenly Spirit, is carried on the living branches of the Cross, which grows like a precious rose from the cave of the Church in the beauty of the saints on the vine that is Christ. It is rooted in the blessed Theotokos (the root of our life) who is herself rooted in God as the daughter and child of God.
In this light, St Luke’s description of the company that is traveling with Jesus shows the disciples and the women as the Church, the Virgin Mother of God, bringing Christ, the Second Adam, to every city and village so that the multitudes who gather from every city – the faithful who gather in the Divine Liturgy in every city – and who receive the Word of his teaching like the ground receives the seed might be transfigured in the Second Eve as branches growing from the vine who is Christ, rooted in the Theotokos, who is herself rooted in God.
The story of the Sower sowing his seed in the fields of the world itself recalls the third day of creation as recorded in Genesis: “Then God said (God spoke; he sent forth his Word, his Logos; he sowed his Seed, the Word of God into the world who became flesh and dwelt among us): ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with seed in them, on the earth’; and it was so. And the earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day” [Gn 1:11-12]. There are two points here that strike me as especially meaningful.
The first point is that God sows the vegetation of the world on the third day. We think immediately of Christ’s resurrection on the third day, and of his own reference to his death as being like a seed that must fall into the ground and die in order to bring forth much fruit [Jn 12:24].
Now, we in holy Eucharist receive into our bodies the Seed of God which is his Heavenly Spirit. In this, we are receiving God into our bodies like the ground receiving the seed on the third day of creation, and we are allowing God to effect in us the new creation that he has brought about through his incarnate Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by his death and resurrection on the third day, has begun his recreation of the world by sowing the seed, the Spirit, of his resurrection in it. Having put on Christ in our baptism, and having received this Seed of God into our bodies through holy Eucharist, we have become so many seeds sown in the field of the new world created from Christ’s death and resurrection. So that as we die in the life of the Church, as we give to Christ of our substance, the life of the serpent in us is put to death and dissolved back into the dust; and we, like the seed buried in the ground, are raised up in the New Creation as branches growing from the vine who is Christ, the living Word of God, on the First Day of the New Creation, Sunday, the Day of the Lord.
For those who have been illumined by their baptism, Sunday is no longer an ordinary day. Like the ground hiding the seed beneath its surface, Sunday hides beneath its ordinariness a wonderful mystery. It is the mystery of Christ, who has sown in the field of the world another life not of this world; he has planted beneath the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that so dominates the landscape of this world the seed of another tree. It is the seed of the Tree of Life, the Cross of Christ, that carries Christ like a cluster of grapes. From that cluster of grapes flow the living waters of the Heavenly Spirit to form the sacraments of the Church as the waters of the new creation. These are the waters of the same Spirit that was brooding over the face of the deep in the beginning of creation, the same Spirit that was breathed into the nostrils of Adam to make him a living soul, the same Spirit that Christ breathed into his disciples in the Upper Room on the eighth Day of his Resurrection (i.e., in the First Day of the Age to Come), the same Spirit that descended on the faithful at Pentecost, the same Spirit that was breathed on us at our baptism, the same Heavenly Spirit we have received in Holy Eucharist. This seed of the Tree Life, bearing in its fruit that is Christ the heavenly life of the Spirit that is not of this world has been planted in us in the midst of our life in this world. We hold this heavenly treasure in the earthen vessels of our bodies; it is the seed of the Heavenly Spirit that has been sown in the field of our bodies, our members, our veins, our heart through our baptism and holy Eucharist.
This brings us now to the second point of meaning that strikes me in our interpretation of this morning’s parable.
In the Greek translation of the Hebrew bible, the phrase, “And God saw that it was good,” is rendered by a word in Greek that in fact means beautiful. And so this phrase of Genesis can be translated, “And God saw that it was beautiful [kaloV].” This is the word used by the Lord when he explains his parable to the disciples. Let me offer what I believe is a more careful translation of the Greek. The Lord says: “As for the seed that fell on the beautiful ground: these are those who, having heard the word, keep it with a beautiful and a good heart and bring forth much fruit with patience.”
Note the sequence. Hearing the word comes first. It is upon hearing the word and keeping it that the ground of the heart in which the seed was sown is shown to be beautiful like it was in the beginning, before it was rendered ‘evil’ by eating the serpent’s fruit against the command of God. To keep the word of God that has been sown in the ground of the heart means to obey the command of the Father as did the Theotokos the Second Eve and Christ, the Second Adam. To obey the command of the Father is to believe in his Son, Jesus Christ, and to believe in his Son Jesus Christ means to die in Christ like a seed falling into the ground. Through obedience to the Father in the Second Adam and the Second Eve one dies to the murderous anger and deceit of the serpent and rises up in the life of Christ. Such a heart brings forth much fruit. These are the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy and peace in contrast to the thorns and thistles of the serpent, the murderous hatred and deceit brought forth from the ground of the heart through the disobedience of the first Adam and Eve.
Finally, note how it is the heart that hears the word and keeps it and so is shown both in itself and in the ground that covers it to be beautiful as it was in its first beauty on the Day of its creation. The heart is our personal center; it is where our will and our desires are centered and where they originate. We can obey Christ and learn to die in him as we practice the ascetic disciplines of the Church – Scripture reading, prayer, fasting, practicing the commandments of Christ in charity such as doing good to those who hate us, not judging our brother, honoring one another, bearing one another’s burdens – under the guidance of the Church. The purpose of practicing the ascetic disciplines of the Church, however, is not to consider ourselves well-pleasing to God. Rather, it is to get beneath the ground of our mind, our body and our soul and into our heart as into the cave of Christmas, the tomb, the Midnight, of holy Pascha: into that center of our being where we choose whom we will serve and what we will live for.
We therefore find it most significant that the last word of this morning’s Gospel is “patience.” For it is easy for us to be impatient with ourselves and to become discouraged. It is therefore good for us to hear again that the biblical precept for putting on Christ is to be patient with ourselves and with one another. It is with patience and perseverance that we take up the trowel, the hoe, the spade of this biblical kind of gardening and again and again, in the fear of God, with faith and love, take up the ascetic disciplines of the Church – reading the bible, saying the prayers, working to follow the commandments of Christ – to loosen the ground of our heart, to make it soft and moist and fertile, to make it beautiful as the Gardener, the Second Adam, would see it.
It’s the fall season. The trees, the flowers are dropping their leaves and their seed into the ground. Perhaps nature itself is groaning for us to give our substance to the Lord and to walk with his holy disciples and the holy women who are accompanying him, that we, too, would fall willfully into the ground like the seed in order to die with him, so that he would guide us and all of nature beneath the ground of our mind, our body, our soul and into the temple of our heart, into the cave of his holy nativity, into the depths of the Jordan and into the tomb of his holy Passion, there to wait in vigilant stillness for Him who comes at Midnight in the Name of the Lord, to recreate in us a new and right spirit, to clothe us and all of creation in our original beauty and to raise us up in his holy resurrection as branches growing from the vine that is Christ, bearing much fruit in his Heavenly Spirit, the fruits of divine life: love, joy and peace.