Seed & Soil
Great big things can come from little tiny ones. Human life begins when a tiny sperm fertilizes a very small egg and in about 15 years we have a full-grown man or woman. A huge oak tree comes from a tiny acorn. So also, a way of life or a lifetime of activity can grow from a tiny thought or idea in our mind. In today’s Gospel reading, from the Fourth Sunday of Luke 8:5-15, Jesus talks about the sower and the seeds, and how one tiny seed “yielded a crop a hundredfold” (v.8). When His disciples ask to explain the parable, Jesus plainly states that “the seed is the Word of God” (v.11). Some minimize the power and potential of daily reading the word of God in the Bible and hearing it proclaimed in the Epistle, Gospel and sermon of the Divine Liturgy but this is clearly a mistake to do so.
Fr. Anthony Coniaris, in his book Gems from the Sunday Gospels (vol.2, p.35), explains the power of the word this way: “Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” In other words, what we hear affects what we think, which influences our behavior, and over time our behavior determines our character, which affects every part of our life from now into the future. The Orthodox theologian Nicholas Berdyaev said, “Every word in the Gospels is only a seed, only the beginning of an endless process of development.”
We do not have some disadvantage now because we don’t live with Christ like the disciples did 2,000 years ago. Why? Because of the Holy Spirit. If you want to hear Jesus Christ speak to you, like He spoke to His followers in Galilee, just open your Bible and start reading the Gospels, just come to Divine Liturgy on time to hear Jesus speak in the Gospel readings. The Holy Spirit provides the inspiration, wisdom and discernment for us to listen and understand and be transformed by the words. This goes for the Epistles of St. Paul, the sermons given by the clergy, the Old Testament readings like we heard at Great Vespers service last night, the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, the writings of the Church Fathers and the lives of the Saints. These are all seeds.
When we open the Bible, when we listen to the readings of the liturgy, the word of God is that tiny seed that can change our lives. It is found in Jesus’ parables, His healings, His miracles, and it is found in Christ Himself who became a seed, buried in the ground, resurrected to new life. That’s why He said, 24Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. (John 12:24). Jesus elsewhere emphasized the importance of the tiny seed: 31Another parable He put forth to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, 32which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches." 33Another parable He spoke to them: "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened." (Matthew 13:31-33)
However, in today’s Gospel, we must remember that the focus is not on the seed or the sower. Rather, Jesus emphasizes the soil and its condition in the parable because that is what will determine if the seed grows and bears fruit. Jesus gives four different examples of soil conditions. Three out of the four fail to produce any fruit. Fr. Coniaris says there are four different types of people who go to Church. Three of the four receive no enduring benefit. Three of the four either miss the point of the sermon, or they are offended by it, or they don’t hear it at all because their mind is elsewhere.
At various times throughout the centuries, the Christian Church has experienced crop failure to one degree or another. It was not because preaching stopped. Rather, it happened because the preaching was not accepted. The fault was not bad seed, but bad soil. The hearts of the hearers never allowed the truth to take root. Arteriosclerosis is a well-known condition in which the physical arteries of the heart harden that can result in decreased function and death. A far more deadly disease is hardening of the heart towards God. The former can lead to physical death but the latter leads to spiritual death. How can we tell that our hearts are hardening? One way is to listen to the sermon and think it’s directed to other people and not to me.
And how do our hearts get hard? Pride is one of the main culprits—that sense of self-importance and superiority. Busyness is another reason. Our life is so full of stuff, it’s like a well-trodden path that is compacted into rock-hard soil. Fr. Coniaris says familiarity is another reason. We’ve grown up our whole lives hearing the parables and miracles of Jesus, so that we take them for granted, not allowing them to make an impression upon us. Another reason is lack of water. Just like moisture softens the earth, prayer, liturgy and the sacraments softens our heart so that it remains resilient and responsive to God’s word.
Simply praying is not enough. We must remain vigilant, becoming aware of how the devil seeks to steal our prayers by distracting us with other thoughts. Neither is simple admiration enough. We cannot say that Jesus’ words were moving or the sermon was powerful and then do nothing. If we do nothing, we become like those who “hear, receive the word with joy, yet have no root and in time of temptation fall away” (v.13). These tiny seeds must become catalysts of change in our life. The lead us to stop certain attitudes and behaviors like gossiping, lusting, envy, and avarice. And they lead us to start new attitudes and behaviors like humility, sacrificial almsgiving, and tithing to the Church.
Another reason that the soil of our heart becomes hard is because we give more importance to the earthly cares, riches and pleasures of our life. Someone once said, “Many people give first-rate loyalties to second-rate causes.” There are many parts of our life that are good: our family, our friends, our job, our hobbies, our home. But if these are more important than God, then they become bad for us. How many of us practice what I call ‘Left-over Christianity’? In other words, whatever we give to God and His Church is that which is left-over after we give our time, talents and treasures to all the other things in our life. And usually, there is not much left-over.
One of the hidden treasures within today’s parable is that soil can be improved. Hard soil can be watered and plowed. Rocks and thorns can be removed. The soil of our heart can become fertile and productive once again through prayer, repentance and confession. These three things can change our heart so that when we hear word of God preached, we neither criticize nor compliment, but rather we decide and we follow-up on our decision so that the change in our heart becomes the change in our life.
As we draw to a close today, think about sensitivity. How sensitive are we to God’s voice? Are we as sensitive as a mother is the cry of her child? As sensitive as a music lover is to the different instruments of a band or orchestra? As sensitive as a farmer is in the city or city-folk on the farm? As sensitive to hear a compliment or a criticism? As sensitive to a lawyer reading the will of our rich relative?
There is story based on a Japanese legend about someone who died and went to heaven. He was taken to a place that was filled with what appeared to be dried mushrooms but on closer examination discovered they were human hears. When he inquired about them, he was told that these were the ears of people who diligently attended church, and listened with pleasure to teachings about God. Yet, they did nothing about what they heard so that after their death only their ears went to heaven.
“Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” Amen!