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2 Corinthians 11.31 – 12.9
Viewed without spiritual eyes, man is but a clump of moistened dirt. The Greek translates the Hebrew, ‘God fashioned man from the dust of the ground,’ as: ‘from a mound of earth.’ (Gn 2.7) A mound of earth could be regarded in antiquity as sacred ground.
In the Hebrew, the image in which God makes man as male and female (Gn 1.26), is a shadow. As such, it shows exactly the contours of the object it’s a shadow of, but in itself, it has no substance. The Hebrew for likeness—man is made in the image and likeness of God—denotes something concrete like a statue, which looks exactly like the object it represents but is, of course, altogether different, as the statue of a man looks like a man but is not a man.
Put all of this together and we are given the profound biblical vision of man. In the image of God, he looks exactly like God, but he’s only a shadow of God. In himself, man is nothing; for God alone is truly substantive.
With this, we begin to see the full theology of man created in the image and likeness of God from the dust of the ground. God fashions Adam into a ‘concrete shadow’ of Himself from a mound of sacred earth. He fashions man into a Temple that, as does the shadow relative to the object casting it, follows the contours of God’s Body or Substance exactly. That means that God can easily fit into the House He has just made from the dust of the ground.
And that’s just what we see when we read: “And God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath or Spirit of Life.” God in His Holy Spirit took up His residence in Adam as in His Holy Temple. As for Adam, when he was filled with the Spirit of God, the concrete shadow that he was, was filled with God, and man became a ‘living soul’ or, in the Hebrew, nephesh.
The word in Hebrew refers to the nose and throat. It depicts man coming to life as a “‘partaker of the divine nature.” That is, he was made so he could eat the Bread of Life and drink the Living Cup that came down from Heaven, the LORD Jesus Christ. He was made so he could eat and drink the Fruit of the Tree of Life, which is the mystery of Jesus Christ born of the Virgin. That is, man was made to live in God and for God to dwell in him as in His Holy Temple. Man, that is, was created deified; he was filled with God, clothed with the Light of God, which is Jesus Christ, in whom is the life of men, the Holy Spirit (Jn 1.3). He was clothed with God from within. He was filled with light, filled with the Glory of God from within. And so, he radiated the Glory of God from within his body.
We read in Exodus that, on Mt Sinai, God told Moses how to build the tabernacle so that it followed the heavenly pattern (Ex 25.9). The tabernacle was therefore a concrete shadow cast against the ground by the light of the heavenly Temple. Its outlines, then, followed exactly the contours of the heavenly Temple. So, when we read that the tabernacle Moses had just completed was overshadowed by the Glory of God and was so filled with the Glory of God that no one, not even the priests, not even Moses, could enter it, we are given to see that the temple is an image of man created in the image and likeness of God; and, man is the prototype of the temple who fits God exactly. Man is made for God to abide in Him and He in God, so that he is filled with the Glory of God, so that it is no longer man who lives but God who lives in him. As Wisdom says, God made man to be immortal because He made him in the image of His own eternity.
Do you see how this is the backdrop of this morning’s Gospel? In the beginning, man received the Spirit of God as the dirt in this morning’s Gospel receives the Seed of God, which is the WORD of God or the LORD Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.
But, there is more to the backstory of this morning’s Gospel. We see in Genesis how the Spirit of God falls ‘lightly’ on man like the seed that falls lightly on the ground. But, man does not receive God into the ‘root,’ the sanctuary of his heart. At the ‘tree of learning good and evil,’ Eve chooses to learn good and evil through disobedience instead of obedience, and so she chooses to receive the seed of the serpent. The temple of man’s body, then, is filled with the serpent’s ‘dark glory’ of the passions: greed, lust envy, anger, hatred. We read in the Wisdom of Solomon that Wisdom will not dwell in a body given over to sin. The Holy Spirit of discipline flees deceit and removes from thoughts that are without understanding, and will not abide when unrighteousness (death) comes in (Wisd 1.4-5).
So, when we read in St Luke’s Gospel the story of the Virgin carefully testing the Archangel Gabriel, we know we are reading the story of man about to be restored as the Living Temple of God. And sure enough, when we hear the Archangel Gabriel telling her that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her (Lk 1.5) just as He did the first Man and just as He did the tabernacle of Moses, we know we are seeing the mystery of the New Temple of the Last Day being filled with the Glory of God, which Ezekiel saw in the Spirit of the LORD (Eze 44.4). The Spirit overshadowing her means that the Virgin is the New Temple of the Last Day. In her, man is restored to the image of God in which he was made and becomes, once again, the Living Temple of God who fits God exactly so that he can receive God, and the Glory of God can come and dwell in man and man in the Glory of God.
This is the mystery depicted in the Sower going out to sow. The Sower is the WORD of God, the LORD explains to His disciples. He is the LORD emptying Himself; that is, sowing Himself in the dirt that man is in the mystery of His Incarnation of the holy Virgin. The back story of our Gospel this morning shows us that the Seed of the Sower has already taken root from within the heart of man; for He was received by the Virgin into her womb as into the sanctuary of His Holy Temple. He is the Fruit of her womb who came forth from her as the Mighty River coming forth from Ezekiel’s Temple.
I mean for you to see that the Holy Spirit of God, the Seed of God, now overshadows the whole world not from outside but from inside, working His ‘salvation from the midst of the earth’ (Ps 74.12). The Sower, the WORD of God by whom all things were made, in the Living Waters of His Holy Spirit, is brooding over the face of the waters as He did at the creation. The Sower is the Sun of Righteousness shining His Light over the whole earth. He is the Light in whom the world came to be.
But, He comes forth now from within the earth of our own soul, for He comes forth from the Holy Virgin, the Living Temple of God. As it turns out, He is the ‘mist going up from the earth and moistening the ground’ as He did in the beginning (Gn 2.5-6) when He was about to fashion man as His Holy Temple from the ‘dust of the ground.’ He sows His Seed even from His Cross; for, it says that ‘He sent forth His Holy Spirit’ (Mt 27.50) so that those who receive it can come forth from the tombs He has opened (Mt 27.51) even as Ezekiel foretold (37.1-14); so that they can come forth from the tombs as holy fruit growing from the Tree of Life, as newborn children of God in the New Creation the WORD of God has raised from death in His Holy Pascha.
Such a beautiful parable that reveals to us the joy of the Feasts the Church is bringing us to as she leads us now to the holy Gates of ‘Advent’: the Feast of the Theotokos’ Entrance into the Temple and the Feasts of Christmas and Theophany that come forth from the Glorious Gate of the Living Temple of the Holy Virgin!
To receive the divine Seed of the Sower this morning’s parable makes clear that we must make our heart into good soil. For, note that all the soil in which the Seed of God could not grow or bear fruit was wild and untilled.
We are clumps of dirt. But, created in the image and likeness of God, we are created with the power of self-determination or free will. We can, if we will, make our way into the mystery of the Temple of God’s Holy Mother, the Virgin Theotokos. The mystery of the Holy Virgin is the mystery of our own soul; and we make our way into the mystery of our own soul when we make our way into the Living Temple of God, His Holy Church. For, in His Church, which is the Temple of His Body that comes forth from the Temple of His Mother, we can “acquire a heart more brilliant than the sun.” (Thurs Matins, Tone 2, Ode VI, p. 127)
It’s not by chance if we are good or rocky soil. It’s a matter of our free choice. In the power of our free will, we can, if we will, enter the Cave of Bethlehem into the presence of the Holy Virgin and her Child. Entering the Cave, we bring the dirt that we are into the Light that shines from the Face of the Christ Child. By His Cross and the ascetic disciplines that grow from it, He tills and loosens the dirt of our soul. By His Holy Spirit, He moistens our soul. And so, the ground of our heart is made into good soil, restored to her original goodness and beauty as the image of God, made ready to receive the Seed of God and bring forth holy fruit with patience. Amen.