|07 - The Parable of the Sower, Oct 18, 2009|
2 Corinthians 11:31-12:9
For our meditation this morning, let’s focus on this from the Savior’s explanation of His parable: “Now, the good earth,” He says, “represents those who hear the Word with a good and upright heart and keep it, and bring forth fruit in patient perseverance.”
“The good earth” together with the seeds sown by the Sower and the soil choked by thorns recall Genesis 1-3, suggesting that the Savior’s parable this morning could be a commentary on the Genesis account of creation, taking us beyond the letter into the Spirit of the biblical text. “The good earth” recalls the judgment of God when He calls His newly created earth “good”. In His explanation of the parable, the Savior tells us that the good earth represents a good and upright heart. Applied to the creation account of Genesis, this suggests that it is neither history nor science but a theological account setting before us the spiritual mystery of the human heart and so revealing to us the unseen mystery of human nature and destiny.
According to Genesis, man was created in the image and likeness of God. What does that mean? The Scriptures tell us that God is love. Because He is love, He is free because love is free; it is freely given and freely received. Created in the image and likeness of God, man is created in the love of God, and so he was created in freedom, free to choose whom he would love. The heart is where this choice is freely made; for the heart is where our will and our desire and our love originate. It is in the heart that we choose whom we will love, whom we will serve.
The Savior says that the good earth represents a good and upright heart. The good heart is the heart as it exists in its natural condition in the image and likeness of God. Just as it was natural for the earth in its natural goodness to receive the good seeds sown by God on the third day of creation, so is it according to the nature of our heart to receive the Word of the crucified God who was raised on the third day, and to bring forth an abundant harvest of good fruit. This harvest would be the fruits of the Spirit, would it not: the fruits of love, joy and peace.
With Genesis as our backdrop, the upright heart would be the heart that has chosen in the freedom that is natural to it to walk in the love of God on the better and changeless path that leads to the Tree of Life. This path itself is Christ, the Image of God in whom we were made; for Christ tells us that He is the way, the truth and the life. And, the fruit of the Tree of Life that man was commanded to eat is Christ, as the Church tells us in her liturgical texts, and as Christ Himself indicates when He says: “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.”
To walk in uprightness, then, is natural to us because we walk in the Way that is Christ, the Image of God in whom we were made, and we are walking to the Tree of Life to become partakers of the divine nature in the love of God, which is what we were made for. We find our exemplars of the good and upright heart in the saints of the OT, and finally in JnBapt and the Theotokos. These chose in their heart to renounce the serpent’s tree and to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life. We receive the fruit that is Christ into our souls through hearing the Word of God and keeping it, and through eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ in Holy Eucharist. When we partake of Christ, we receive the seed of the fruit of the Tree of Life into our bodies, our minds and our souls. When we keep the Word of God in obedience to the commandments of Christ, we cultivate that seed in the grace of the Holy Spirit, and it grows to become in us a tree of life that brings forth the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy and peace.
When the Savior says, “the good earth represents those who hear the Word with a good and upright heart and keep it, and bring forth fruit in patient perseverance,” He is telling us how we can recover ourselves, how we can return to our original, natural goodness and receive Christ, the Image of God in whom we were made, into our hearts like the good earth receiving the good seeds sown by God the Father, and bring forth the fruits of the Spirit like the good earth bringing forth an abundant harvest. We begin by hearing the Word of God. From there, we proceed to the ascetic disciplines of keeping it with patient perseverance. Let’s meditate on this for a few moments.
The Word of God that we receive in the Church is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. That means that the word of God pierces into the inner sanctuary of the heart. When we listen attentively to the prayers and Scripture readings of the Church, when we say the prayers of the Church daily, even without ceasing, with attention and true feeling and not glibly as though we have a bus to catch, and when we read the Scriptures daily in the privacy of our home, we are receiving the Word of God into the ground of our hearts. And the Word of God that is sharper than any two-edged sword, that pierces to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart, pierces through the rock of our hardened hearts, breaks it down into soft, good soil and begins to make our heart into good earth again. When we persistently choose not to eat from the serpent’s tree by indulging our passions for the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, and we are patient to practice Christ’s commandments we are keeping the Word of God; and the seed of God chokes the thorns and thistles of worldly cares and begins to send up in their place shoots that will blossom into the fruits of the Spirit.
That is to say, when we hear the word of God and keep it, we are receiving Christ Himself into our hearts in the love of God. As we choose to dwell in the Word of God, that is to say, in Christ every day, every hour, every minute, the seed of Christ, which is the Holy Spirit, penetrates all the way into our secret heart and begins to heal us and recreate us, making us into new creatures, renewing in us a good and upright spirit so that we can receive the Word of God Himself into the bridal chamber of our hearts as the beloved Bride lovingly receives her loving Bridegroom who comes to her at Midnight – at that moment when the old passes over into the new.
Let me suggest some practical ways we can take up the work of receiving the Word of God into our heart that He might begin to re-create us and make us into good earth again. Keep a bible near at hand in your home. Carry a pocket-size bible in your pocket or purse; and read it often. Read it daily. When you are feeling lonely or bored, upset or disheartened, instead of turning to the TV or the internet to numb your inner pain, pick up the bible and pray the Psalms as your own prayer, using them to help you draw near to God and to call upon the Lord from the depths of your heart. Throughout the day, talk to God; bring Him into your inner life, share your feelings with Him, your thoughts, your worries, your cares. Participate regularly in the services of the Church. Come and join your fellow travelers in prayer on the better and changeless path that leads to the Tree of Life. Come stand with them in the presence of Christ who is in our midst in the love of the Father. Surrounded by the love of God in His holy Church, observe the fasts of the Church on Wednesdays and Fridays and during the special fasting seasons in order to subject our bodies to the love of God rather than to the pleasures of the flesh. Honor your parents. Pray for your enemies, those who have offended you and treated you unkindly. Remember the poor and the needy. Finally, bring your soul to the sacrament of confession and confess the sins that have hardened your heart and filled the ground of your soul with thorns.
When we choose in these different ways to keep the Word of God we are making the choice to act uprightly. We are bending our heart to the Light of God that is most natural to it. We are receiving the Word of God that will itself pierce to the division of soul and spirit in our heart, to the joints and marrow and to the secret thoughts and intentions of our heart, and begin to cleanse us and to turn our heart into good earth again in the love of God.
But we must be patient in this work of faith. We can’t keep it for a time and then drop it. We must persevere in it. Likening the word of God to the seed, this morning’s parable is telling us that salvation – making us whole again, making us into good earth again – is a process that takes time, just as it takes time for the seed to grow into the mustard tree. In the Church, we are gardeners tilling the ground of our soul to restore our hearts into a Garden bursting with love for God. The ascetic disciplines of the Church are our hoe and our rake by which we take up this work of cultivating the ground of our soul in the love of God so that Christ the Word of God can do His work of piercing to the division of soul and spirit in our heart and make our heart into good earth again. But we must choose to pick up the hoe and the rake of the Church’s ascetic disciplines and use them, because the harvest we are working for is the love of God in whose Image we were made; and love is free. It is freely chosen; it is freely given and it is freely received.
Hear the Gospel, the Good News, of this morning’s parable: even if our hearts are stony and choked with weeds, they can be made into good earth again if we do as the Savior directs: “Hear the Word of God in a good and upright heart and in patient perseverance keep it,” and like the good earth our hearts will bring forth an abundant harvest in the love of God: the fruits of love, joy and peace in the eternal life of God’s Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Heb 4:12