|07 The Sower's Seed - Oct 14, 2007|
The Savior explains his parable of the sower to his disciples and tells them that the seed is the Word of God. What exactly does Our Lord mean by Word of God? Is he talking about himself as the divine Word who was in the beginning with the Father, or is he talking about the written word of God, such as the teaching of Moses and the prophets concerning the Law of God? But the Savior says to the Pharisees: “The scriptures…bear witness to me. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for Moses wrote of me.” (Jn 5:46) The written words of God spoken by Moses and the prophets are all speaking of the Word of God who is a Person, the Second Person of the Trinity, the only-begotten Son of God, who is Jesus himself. St Paul opens his epistle to the Hebrews: “In days of old, God the Father has spoken in many and varied ways to the fathers by the prophets; but in these last days, he has spoken to us in his Son, in whom he made the ages.” The Word of God, by whom the world and everything in it was created, is the Person of Jesus Christ. To this personal Word of God, Jesus Christ, all the written words of Scripture, as well as the spoken words of the Church’s proclamation, refer.
Therefore, the seed of the sower, which Jesus identifies as “the Word of God,” ultimately is Jesus himself; the Word spoken by the Father in the beginning by which he created the world and sowed the seeds of life in the world he had made. As it says in Genesis: “And God said: ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind upon the earth;’ and it was so.’” “And God said; he spoke a Word, and the Word he spoke was the divine Person of Jesus, his only-begotten Son.
The seeds of life that God sows in the beginning by his Word, Jesus Christ, are like so many words that fall from the Word of God; and the words that fall from the Savior’s lips are like so many seeds of life that bring forth a rich harvest that spring up to eternal life. Christ is called the Sun of Righteousness. The words that fall from his lips are like beams of sunlight radiating from the sun. Standing in the sunbeam, you stand in light and warmth that is the very light and warmth of the sun. Receiving the words that come from the Word of God, Jesus Christ, you are receiving God himself. The Church is the body of Christ. The words that come to us from her in her doctrines and prayers, in her preaching and teaching and in her biblical commands, are not just words about the Savior; they are somehow the Savior himself. They are like the seeds of life that were sown by God the Word in the beginning when he said: “let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind upon the earth; and it was so.”
You see how powerful is this Word of God. From nothing it brings the heavens and the earth into existence; and then it makes them alive and growing. By the words it speaks like seeds of life falling from its lips, it sows itself into the dust of the ground and brings forth vegetation, plants and fruit trees, all yielding seed and bearing fruit in which is their seed. But when the Savior in this morning’s Gospel parable says: “The Sower went out to sow his seed,” I take him to be talking specifically of his Incarnation, when the living and creative Word of God “goes out” of himself – empties himself – and sows himself in the substance of the Blessed Virgin and becomes one with us and dwells among us. He continues to dwell among us as Immanuel, God With Us, in his holy Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who is all in all. In his body, the Church, his Incarnation continues. In the Church, he is visible so that he can be seen with our physical eyes; he can be heard with our bodily ears; he can be touched with our fleshly hands.
From the Church, from her liturgical texts, we learn to look upon the Cross of Christ as the Tree of Life that grows in the Garden; and we see Christ as the fruit of the Tree of Life, whom the Cross carries like a cluster of grapes full of life. The seeds that Christ sows, then, are seeds of the fruit of the Tree of Life that fall to the ground when his side is pierced with a spear and immediately there comes out blood and water that fall to the ground. The seeds that Christ sows are the sacraments of the Church. The Cross, the Tree of Life, is plunged into the ground like a spear and rips open the belly of hell. The blood and water that flow from Christ’s side pierced with a spear soak into the dust of the ground and fill the tombs beneath with the living waters of the Holy Spirit. By his Cross, Christ has opened the ground of the earth like the farmer’s plow, and in the blood and water that flow from his side he has sown in this world outside of Eden the seeds of his own body and blood, the life of his Holy Spirit, the living seeds of the fruit of the Tree of Life. In the world, they are growing in his Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who is all in all.
This is to say that in the Church, there is sown into your heart, your mind, your soul and your body through the hearing of faith, in the washing of the baptism and the anointing of the holy chrism, and in the partaking of the living bread and the Cup of Life, the Seed that is the Word of God: Jesus Christ himself, the Word of God in whom God made the ages, the Fruit of the Tree of Life that grows in the Garden of Eden. Partaking of the sacraments of the Church, you have been made alive in God. Your life is no longer in this world, but it is hidden with Christ in God. You are no longer children of the night; you are children of the day. The seed of the Tree of Life has been sown in your body. What that living seed of Christ needs in us so that we can grow into branches of that Holy Vine which is Christ, is the good soil of a good heart that hears the Word of God and holds fast to it and bears fruit in patience and perseverance.
When Jesus says a ‘good heart’, I don’t think we should take him to mean a sinless heart. For as the Word of God himself says to us in the words of his Holy Scripture: all of us have sinned; we have each one gone our own way; there is none who is righteous, no not one, so that if the Lord should regard iniquity, no one could stand. I think what Jesus means by a good heart is given to us in the parable itself: it is that person who hears the Word of God and who keeps it; i.e. who chooses to take up his Cross in the practice of obedience to the Word of God that he hears in patience and in perseverance. The virtues of patience and perseverance imply work, sometimes described as “unseen warfare.” For this work is battling against the desires of our heart to go our own way and not the way of God. Patience and perseverance imply that there will be setbacks and failure along the way; for we are, after all, sinners. We are sick, we have forgotten God, we have not kept his commandments; so that to keep his commandments is a way of living that we’re not used to. The heart becomes good, then, when it repents. Repentance means to change the way we think, to break our old habits of thinking and to learn new habits of thinking: habits of the mind that are focused on hearing God’s Word and not our own words. But to hear the Word of God and to keep it rather than our own is like learning a new skill. It takes time, it takes diligence, it takes patience and perseverance to learn it. It takes determination and resolve not to give in to disappointment, not to give up when we fail or fall short. It takes patience to persevere in the Way of God and not to fall back into our own way especially at those times when we don’t feel like it. Perhaps the times when we don’t feel like hearing the Word of God and keeping it, but would rather hear and keep our own word, are the greatest opportunities for growing in the living Word of God. For those are the times when our self-will is asserting itself and so those are especially opportune times for confronting our self-will directly in order to crucify it to the Cross of Christ by choosing to hear and keep God’s Word rather than our own.
Patience and perseverance imply that we are working to hear the Word of God and to keep it every moment of our life, not just on Sunday morning. It therefore implies that we are working to pray without ceasing; to keep our mind “stayed on Christ,” to follow the ascetic and moral disciplines of the Church at all times, never allowing ourselves even for a moment to chase after the lusts and pleasures of the flesh or the values of the world either with our bodies or in our minds, so that the life of God, woven into the fabric of our mind and body, becomes our very life even in this world.
We have every incentive to cultivate a good heart that hears the Word of God and keeps it in patience and perseverance. As St Peter writes: “You have been regenerated not from perishable seed but from imperishable by means of the living and abiding Word of God. ‘For all flesh is like grass; and its glory is as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away. But the word of the Lord remains forever.’ Now this is the word that was preached to you according to the Gospel.” In other words, in the Church, the Word we hear and keep is not the life of the world that is here today and gone tomorrow. It is the life of God, the life given to us by the Word of Life who is God himself, Christ our God, who comes to us in the flesh on his Cross as the Fruit of the Tree of Life growing in the Garden. Receive Christ God, the Word of Life, as the ground receives the seed. Receive him in a good heart. Hear him; i.e., study who he is and what he teaches by reading the Scriptures, the Feasts as in the Festal Menaion and the Lenten Triodion, the Philokalia. With a good heart, keep his Word; i.e., practice it through prayer and fasting, participating regularly in the worship of the Church, submitting to the moral and ascetical disciplines of the Church; and even as your body is aging and dying in this world, you will be growing in Him who is the life of God, who comes to us from beyond the grave, from the Garden of Eden, from Heaven itself. In the branches of the Cross, the Tree of Life, you walk through the moments, the hours and the days of this life as on a bridge that spans the abyss of death and passes over into the Garden of Eden. Partaking of Christ himself, we eat not the bread of anxious toil, but the Living Bread that comes down from heaven, Christ God himself, the Word of the Father, who abides forever. Amen.