Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!

In every lesson that we are given from the Holy Gospels, we ought not simply to listen to what is said there, to hear merely with the outer ear, but rather we ought to write it down in the very depths of the heart, letting nothing pass us by. In such a way we shall produce abundant spiritual fruits, fruits which are fit for the divine storehouse.

If, however, we find ourselves in church bodily, but our hearts are far away, and we neglect what is good for our souls, being caught up and dragged along by the confusion and cares of this life, then we run the very real risk of deriving no more benefit from the lessons of the Gospel than those who do not come to church at all. For we will be like unto those who received the seed, the Word of God, but produced no fruit, as we learned clearly from our Lord’s parable in the Gospel we have just heard.

The Lord speaks in parables in order to make His listeners attentive, and to lift up our minds to investigate what He said; for those things which are spoken in a concealed manner will often more readily cause the hearer to want to consider them, and to investigate more deeply, while those things which are said in ways which are plain, familiar, and obvious tend to be accepted, even applauded, but not nearly as readily taken to heart. They are seen more as impositions from the exterior than acquisitions of the interior man.

A parable, then, by its nature has a hidden sense; it says one thing on the face of it, but bears something deeper in its meaning. A parable conveys similitudes and images of those things which are invisible, those things which are noetic and spiritual; thus, things which we cannot see with our bodily eyes are disclosed to us by a parable.

The sower in today’s parable, he who goes out to sow his seed, is the Only-begotten Son and Word of God, Who went out from the bosom of the Father, from Whom He was never separated. He came to us, He Who is everywhere present and Who fills all things, He Who was in the bosom of the Father before all ages. He was begotten before the ages. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not, as Saint John says.

How is it said that He went out? God does not move from place to place, as do bodies, because He is everywhere; but in His power, His providence, and His economy He became closer to us by being clothed with flesh. Since we were unable to approach God, being separated from Him and impeded by our sins, He Himself came to us at His Advent in the flesh, being the Son and Word of God the Father.

He went out to us; that is, He took flesh; and in an ineffable manner He became as we are, and spoke to us of the kingdom; and thus He brought us into it, after purifying us of our transgressions and reconciling us to God the Father. The Lord went out, not to destroy the thorn-filled earth or to torment its tillers, but to sow the seed of piety and produce the fruit of salvation. He calls His teaching here the seed; and the hearts of men, the ground.

He does not speak of one who will sow, but of one who does sow, inasmuch as the Son of God does not cease to sow salutary and salvific seeds in our souls. For not only by teaching does He sow His good seed in our hearts, but also by means of all creation: heaven and earth and things which we receive every day.

Whatever the prophets spoke of old, they spoke by the Holy Spirit, as the Creed attests. With Christ, however, the word was His own, for He Himself is the Word. He did not say, therefore: “Thus saith the Lord,” but rather, “I say unto you;” that we might understand that the seed is of His own nature, and that He is the Giver of all good things; we are His work; every harvest of spiritual fruit comes from Him, from His seed.

And He is still sowing, for the Lord continues to sow His word and His teachings through the Apostles and the teachers and pastors who followed them.

“And some fell by the wayside,” we read of the seed. Our Lord did not say that the sower threw it there, but that it fell; for the sower sows and teaches, and the word falls upon hearers, who are shown to be either the wayside, the rock, the thorns, or the good ground. Note that three parts of what was sown perish, while only one is saved. Thus, there are three categories of those who remain unfulfilled and do not bring forth fruit after they have heard the Lord. Some lost what they had heard immediately after hearing it; others, having heard, rejoiced in what they had heard, yet lacked roots, and, in time, when temptation came, they forgot about what they had heard; still others, who are greater in number than the first two groups, heard the word, accepted it and retained it, yet did not bear fruit, because the seed did not grow freely in them, but was choked by confusion and cares.

We see that the Lord in many places calls souls “ground,” in that they receive the sowing of the word, as we learn from the present parable. Whereas some seed fell on good ground, receptive to divine teaching and suitable for bringing forth fruit, other seed fell on hard and resistant ground, which is called barren. Such is the soul if it does not have the word and wisdom; if it does not live righteously or walk in the truth.

The Apostles in their turn desired to know the meaning of this parable. They did not inquire about it in front of everyone, but approached the Lord in private. The Lord said to them, “Unto you has it been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God.” It has been given to you, meaning to those who are worthy. And just who are those who are worthy? Those who are seeking and who desire to learn. For our Lord said, “For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth.” To others, however, who make themselves unworthy of these mysteries, because they neither seek nor wish to learn, these things are communicated in a way that is obscure. Such people might think that they see, but they see not; they imagine that they hear, but they understand not; and this is indeed for their own good. The mysteries are hidden from them, lest they incur greater condemnation for spurning the mysteries after having understood them.

Our Lord opens the parable to His Apostles, and to us. He speaks of three classes of men who are not saved. Some He calls the wayside, indicating that those by the wayside are lazy, hard and unbending; they do not receive the divine word at all, nor do they keep it in their hearts. Just as any road is hard, not plowed but firm, because it lies beneath the feet of all, and seed does not sink into it, but rather lies on the open ground, ready for all the birds to seize it; so also are the hardhearted, whose mind is darkened, are rigid and unyielding; they have willingly made themselves a pathway trodden by the unclean demons and by Satan himself, and they do not accept the divine word at all.

This is one class of those who are not saved; another comprises those on the rock, as our Lord says. To the rock He likens those who have received within themselves the divine word without any doubt, and readily believe in God; however, they do not have much soil, that is, foundation. In them faith springs up quickly, but it does not have deep roots; therefore, they soon wither away, because they did not have enough earth, that is, a mind strong and firm. Though they dutifully receive the sacred mysteries, they do so without discernment and examination, with weakness of will; therefore, when a little heat of temptation comes, they wither and betray the faith, weakened by human frailty.

The seed which fell among thorns refers to those who have heard the word of God, accepted it into their souls, sent out roots and sprung up a little but the divine seed is not left to grow to perfection, being choked by the cares and pleasures of this life, which prick and wound our souls like thorns. Note that our Lord did not say that they were simply choked by riches, though indeed riches are there, but rather by cares and riches and the pleasures of this world. For wealth itself will not cause harm; but worrying, caring, loving wealth certainly will. On the other hand, many have truly profited from their riches on this earth by using them for the benefit of the poor.

After speaking of the sorrowful ways of perdition, our Lord then turns to the good ground, not wishing – not allowing – us to despair, but holding out the hope of repentance, and showing that it is possible to pass from the former to the latter: from despair to repentance.

The good ground. The good ground, which is rich and fertile, bearing fruit a hundredfold, is the good soul, freed from all improper passions and ready to bring forth the fruit of virtues. But see how few are those who are being saved, and how many are those who are perishing. While there are three groups of the perishing, there is only one of those being saved. The sower has sown his seed everywhere equally, yet in some the seed has perished, while in others it has been greatly multiplied.

This happened not because of the nature of the seed, but according to the disposition and will of those who receive the seed. For God in His great goodness sows His seed to all, and He teaches us that as we work in the life of grace and prayer that we ourselves must not grow discouraged or lazy, even if we find many more perishing than being saved, but always to sow assiduously and to preach the word of God.

The evangelist Saint Matthew in treating this parable divided the good ground into three sections. Just as those who are perishing have three divisions, so also do those who are being saved. Some brought forth fruit thirtyfold, others sixtyfold, others a hundredfold. Every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that manner.

One way of seeing these differing manners is brought forth by Saint John Chrysostom, who said: Those who brought forth fruit a hundredfold are those who have preserved purity of body and soul in virginity and passionlessness; at the same time have also given their possessions to God, and have been lifted above all earthly things by complete detachment, and have entirely and finally committed themselves to God. The hundredfold is understood of perfect virtue.

The ones who brought forth sixtyfold are those who exercise the great works of mercy, as our Lord enumerated in the Gospel, saying: Ye gave Me meat; ye gave Me drink; ye took Me in; ye clothed Me; ye visited Me; ye came unto Me.

And those who brought forth the thirtyfold return are those who while struggling nevertheless keep a living faith. In all cases, in all manner of return, all those who bring forth fruit are the saved. He who bears fruit thirtyfold is no less saved than he who bears a hundredfold

He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

My friends, let us today not block our ears – including the interior ears of our minds and our hearts – but let us hear our Saviour’s word with our intellect, and let us accept the heavenly seed with wide hearts. Let us not lose it through laziness, nor betray it because of cowardice, nor choke it with the cares of this life, with pleasures, or with the allure of riches. Let us strive for the divine seed to send down deep roots, so that it may not wither from the attacks of temptations.

Let us root out of ourselves every earthly care, every disordered passion, so that the blessed and saving word, the seed of faith, will not be choked. In this way we shall, like good ground, bring forth fruit according to our abilities, in a manner according to our circumstance, by the divine grace and assistance of Christ Jesus our Lord.

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