Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
And Jesus said, “’He that hath ears to hear, let him hear!’”
“Wisdom! Let us attend!” “Wisdom! Stand upright!” Whenever we hear this command punctuated in our services, it would do us well to sit up (or more to the point to stand up) and take note. Put your listening ears on, as they say. Pay attention because what you are about to hear will impart wisdom and divine truth to you for the salvation of your soul. We do well, therefore, then, to listen attentively to the Word of God proclaimed aloud in our ears this very day. But, listening attentively is more than being politely attentive. It is – and necessarily entails – doing the Word received in the soil of our souls, implanted deep in our hearts (Jm. 1:21; 1 Pe. 1:23). Listening or hearing always involves doing, being obedient to the divine Word imparted (Jm. 1:19-25). “’[W]hosoever heareth these sayings of Mine,’” says our Lord, “’and doeth them, I will liken unto a wise man, . . . .’” (Mt. 7:24). Indeed, even as Jesus says later in St. Luke, “’[B]lessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it’” (Lk. 11:28). In so listening and doing, the mysteries of the Kingdom of God are fulfilled in us and by us.
But, not all souls are able to receive these mysteries. Hence, the reason our Lord gives for speaking in parables to those outside His community of believers. He illustrates this using a rather familiar image easily accessible to most all of us, especially those of us who live in rural America. He calls upon the icon of a farmer who goes out into the fields to sow seed. Now, in those days long before agriculture became mechanized and digitalized and technologized, the sower of seed simply put seed in a sack secured about the body and walked the fields broadcasting the seed to and fro indiscriminately. No nice neat rows planted so many inches apart in fields well prepared for such implantation, but a liberal casting forth of the precious seed. For, as the Apostle assures us this morning, if we sow stingily, we will reap little; if we sow liberally, we will reap bountifully (2 Cr. 9:6-11). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to point that out. You reap what you sow (Ga. 6:7). Only someone who lacks wisdom would assume otherwise.
So, our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, the divine Sower of His divine creative, saving, and sanctifying Word, goes forth as One sent into the world of His Father’s longstanding affection to broadcast His words of light and life indiscriminately (Jn. 1:4-5; 3:16-21; 6:63; 8:12; 12:46) , allowing the seed to fall where it may, knowing full well that there are varying degrees of receptivity: from the hard hearted all the way to those who prove to be rich and fertile. These are here the four identified soils of the parable. Three out of four soils ultimately prove to be fruitless, unproductive – seemingly a waste of the sower’s time and efforts! But, not so with God Who is, as Sacred Scripture announces in joy, longsuffering towards us who are dull of hearing and slow of doing, that is, of believing, since faith necessarily involves doing (Ex. 34:6; Nm. 14:18; Ps. 85 :15; Jl. 2:13; 2 Pe. 3:15). And the Word of God is absolutely critical for having faith. “So then faith comes by hearing,” says the Apostle, “and hearing by the Word of God” (Rm. 10:17).
Our Father in Heaven is not some brutal ogre Who plots our demise, lying in wait for us to err. To the contrary! He does not yearn for the death of any but longs incessantly for the fruition of all in His Kingdom, for all to come to fruition in His Kingdom, as made known in primordial Paradise (Ek. 18:23; 33:11; 1 Tm. 2:4). Here, then, is a mystery of the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: we must hear and believe (which is all wrapped up in listening and doing). We need a healthy understanding of man’s capacity to receive the divine and eternal – for man is capable of the divine, of theosis or deification – all the while retaining the God-bestowed gift of freedom to resist the divine and eternal, even if it means man’s condemnation unto eternal death! “Wisdom! Attend!” “’He who has ears to hear, let him hear!’”
As we see in the parable, not everyone will hear and believe, listen and do. Not everyone, believe it or not, eagerly receives the divine Word of God’s grace. Or, if it is received, permits it to come to fruition in them. Three out of the four hearts and souls represented here in the four soils fall into this category. The first heart and soul is just plain hard upon which the seed of God falls. The words of God can find no place in its dirt, no place to rest and germinate, just as our Lord once intimated that the Son of Man has no place to lay His head (Mt. 8:20). Rather, the seed of the Word of God lies atop the compacted heart exposed and vulnerable to the demons, the spiritual powers of the air (Ep. 6:12), who quickly deprive the soul and snatch it away. Our Lord doesn’t offer reasons for such hardness of heart and soul, though I’m sure we could enumerate several. He simply identifies the state of the spiritual soil. He Himself has recognized when He sent His Disciples out into the highways and byways that there would be those who will resist them and those who will be abundantly receptive. His Disciples were to seek out the latter wherever they went preaching and teaching and healing (Mt. 10:5-15; Mk. 6:7-13; Lk. 9:1-6). Our Lord does not suffer under the illusion that everyone will be glad to receive Him or His Church or that the Gospel of His Kingdom will cause all to leap for joy. There will be – and are – those who meet Him head-on, resisting Him, such as the Sadducees and Pharisees, the scribes and elders of Israel – anyone who is like them sharing their mindset and prejudices. We certainly can see this hardness is alive and ill in our world today.
A second heart and soul is akin to the rocky and shallow soil. We have seen this if we’ve spent time outdoors. You’re walking along a path or a trail and happen upon a plant growing up in a thin layer of stony dirt. It appears to be thriving with a good root system, that is, until you bend over to pluck it. It offers little or no resistance because it lacks depth of root. It was able to survive, just barely perhaps, but the slightest bit of tugging on it quickly and effortlessly uproots it. Such is the heart and soul of those who receive Jesus and His Word and His Church with utter joy and gladness, that is, until all of this is put to the test. I’ve seen this more times than I can to remember over the years. This is especially so among those who tend to emotionalism or who are dominated by their emotions and couch the Faith in emotional terms and gauge authentic spirituality and worship by the emotional high elicited. There is an initial enthusiasm, a gun-ho-ness, on their part. They’re enthused and excited about what they’ve stumbled upon, seemingly eager and energetic for more of what they’ve found. And, no doubt, they are, giving them the benefit of their sincerity. But, then, something happens, something crops up to challenge this new found belief system – which inevitably and invariably will happen because we’re dealing with real life. And so, sadly, if not tragically, they “’fall away,’” as Jesus says. “[T]hey have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Rm. 10:2). These are like those who, at our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, shout “’Hosanna! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord!,’” only to cry out for the blood of this same Jesus on Great and Holy Friday but a few days later. They have “a form of godliness, but [deny] its power” (2 Tm. 3:5).
A third heart and soul is that of the seed that fell among thorns that eventually overwhelm the sown seed. This heart and soul, like the last, receives the joy of Jesus. Unlike the last, however, the seed takes deeper root, stretching out a better root system of faith. It appears well on its way to being fruitful and productive, alive with the full promise contained in the seed for divine growth. But, somewhere along the line this heart and soul becomes distracted, enticed by the riches of this world, enamored with its pleasures, and engulfed by its cares and uncertainties. Like Peter, somewhere along the line this heart and soul loses its focus on the Lord and Master of the storm and gets hooked on the raging waves and thunderous winds of the storm itself. And, in its fragmented distraction, it wavers and sinks beneath the foaming waters (Mt. 14:22-33). Or, like the rich young ruler, it becomes fixated on and consumed with what Jesus was calling it to offer up to the greater glory of God (not fully realizing that in offering up to God it was actually preserving for whatever we sacrifice for God He stores up for us in Heaven as treasure) and so departs exceedingly sorrowful (Mt. 6:19-21; 19:16-30; Mk. 10:17-31; Lk. 16:13-34; 18:18-30). Or, like the impious Judas the lover of money, the love of money and all that it can buy, becomes the driver and motivator, replacing Jesus the Saviour of the soul as the priceless pearl and hidden treasure worthy of all sacrifice (Mt. 13:44-46; 1 Tm. 6:10, 17-19). This heart and soul, somewhere along the line, forgot the catechesis of Sacred Scripture that to be in love with the world is to be an enemy of God (Jm. 4:1-10; 1 Jn. 2:15-17).
“’But that on the good ground are they that, in an honest [noble] and good heart, having heard the Word, keep it and bring forth fruit with patience [endurance/perseverance].’” Here we now come to the rich and fertile soil of the good and noble or honest heart. This is the heart and soul that glories in times of testing because it is full of the nutrients of the Gospel and the grace of God. It has come to personally know the Truth that “tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. [And] hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in [the] heart by the Holy Spirit . . . .” (Rm. 5:3-5) . This is the heart and soul in whom the word of Christ, or Christ the Word of God, dwells “richly in all wisdom” (Co. 16), by giving itself to Jesus Christ and allowing Him to have the preeminence in all things (Co. 1:18). This is the heart and soul that heeds the wisdom of the Church’s call to “lay aside all earthly cares” (Cherubicon). This is the heart and soul that devotes itself to fasting and prayer and almsgiving, as taught by our Lord and practiced by His Church for two millennia (1 Cr. 7:5; Co. 4:2). This is the heart and soul that pursues peace with all and the holiness of God without which no one will see the Lord (Hb. 12:14). This is the heart and soul that has been fertilized and energized through constant meditation on “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report,” full of virtue and praiseworthy (Pp. 4:8; 1 Th. 5:17; 1 Tm. 4:15). This is the heart and soul that truly understands what Jesus says, that no fruit comes without cost and patience, that is, without sacrifice and perseverance or endurance. As our Lord tells us, the one who endures to the end will be saved (Mt. 10:22; 24:13; Mk. 13:13; Rv. 13:10; 14:12). It is St. Peter who reminds us that God’s divine power has indeed been given to us that we might be partakers of the divine nature and that we are to be diligent, adding to our faith “virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound,” the Apostle vows, “you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pe. 1:3, 4, 5-8). We are to be growing “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Co. 1:10; 2 Pe. 3:18).
Beloved, we are God’s field, the people of His own planting (1 Cr. 3:9). We are to cooperate with the Word of God sown in our hearts and souls in the bathing of the waters of salvation, in the anointing with the oil of chrismation, in the eating and drinking of Christ God Himself. Whatsoever we sow in this field we will reap is the prevailing ancient wisdom (Ga. 6:7-8): garbage in, garbage out, as they say. If we want the fruit of the Holy Spirit we must sow to the Spirit, as St. Paul tells us, which means, we must intentionally tend to our hearts and souls by making God and His Kingdom our priority, which means, God and His Church first, above all else (Ga. 5:22-23; 6:7-8). We will find nothing less in the lives of the saints. In other words, we are to nurture love for God and starve our love for this world by fasting from it (Mt. 6:24, 33).
Good soil is rich in nutrients. Or, in the words of our Lord, good soil that produces fruit is a good and noble or honest heart. Anything less makes us one of the other three unfruitful fields. The good news is, however, in this life, on this side of eternity, unfruitful soil can be transformed through repentance and conversion and amendment of life into good and fruitful soil.
“Wisdom! Stand upright! Let us attend!” “’He that hath ears to hear, [better] hear!’”
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
2 Cr. 9:6-11