The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (8:5-15)
Today we hear the familiar parable of the sower who went out to sow his seed. As we listen to the whole of this parable we are left with the understanding that the soil is man’s heart and the seed in the word of God. It is obvious that there is nothing wrong with the seed, since the seed comes from and belongs to God. However, the question that we must answer for ourselves is “What can I do to prepare my heart to properly receive and keep the word of God?”
In a garden, the soil must be prepared or else it will be difficult to expect much from what is planted. Sometimes this means tilling the soil, removing rocks and debris, and pulling up the weeds. It seems that Our Lord Jesus Christ also views the heart of each human being as a garden that can bear unbelievably abundant fruit under the correct conditions.
So how do we prepare our hearts to receive the word of God and keep it? The great teachers and fathers of the church speak of a number of things that we must do to prepare and soften our hearts. I would like to briefly focus on three methods of preparing and softening the heart: almsgiving, repentance and confession and the reading of Scripture.
Almsgiving mean to give to the needs of the poor. What can we give? Whatever we have the ability to give that will be a blessing to another person or group. When we give, our pockets are emptied but our souls are filled. We not only make room in our pockets and wallets and purses, we make room in our hearts for God since our possessions were taking up important space in our hearts.
On Almsgiving St. John Chrysostom writes “This makes men like God….Though virginity, fasting and sleeping on the ground are more difficult than this, yet nothing is so strong and powerful to extinguish the fire of our sins as almsgiving. It is greater than all other virtues. It places the lovers of it by the side of the King Himself, and justly.”
On repentance and confession, St. Isaac the Syrian writes, “He who acknowledges his sin is higher than he who raises the dead through his prayer; and he who is worthy of seeing his true self, is higher than he who can see Angels.”
Repentance and confession begin at home. It is something that we do on a daily basis at the end of the day, when we say our evening prayers and take account of our actions and failings of that day. When we feel genuine remorse for our sins, we then bring this energy of repentance to the spiritual hospital, the Church, in order to bear a little shame and humble ourselves before the priest who has been given the great grace to offer the forgiveness of Christ.
The more ashamed we are of our sins, the more important it becomes to relieve this burden and share this with a priest in confession. As long as we hide it deep in our hearts, our hearts are hardened and the demons use it against us and it creates anxiety, depression and a multitude of other issues for us. In fact, St. Nikolai of Zicha says that if we don’t repent, we won’t be saved at all. He writes, “The Lord desires the salvation of each and every person. But not everyone wants to be saved. In a word they all desire it, but in deed they reject it… The ones who perish are the ones who sin but do not repent and only justify their transgressions. That is the worst, most deplorable state.”
Now we come full circle to the reading of Holy Scripture. In the parable we are reminded that the seed is the Word of God. So it makes sense to us that one of the best things we could possible do to ensure that some of the seed takes hold and bears fruit is to make sure we encounter the seed as often as possible and have as much of the seed as possible. The more seeds that we have in our field, the more likely we will be to have an abundant harvest at the right time. Likewise for us, the more we fill our hearts with the word of God, the more we meditate on the Scriptures, the more we study them and commit them to memory, the more blessings we will obtain. The word of God is a two-edged sword. It changes us. It cleanses us, purifies us, give us light and hope. It is a deep well with life-giving waters. Are we constantly depressed, anxious, scattered and feeling hopeless? The Holy Scriptures will help us reorient our lives while they also soften our hearts for the Lord.
On the reading of Scripture, Abba Poemen wrote: “By its nature, water is soft while a stone is hard. However, when it runs along a watercourse and drips on a stone, it slowly but surely makes a hole in it. Likewise, the word of God is soft while our hearts are tough. However, if a person frequently listens to the Word of God, his heart softens and becomes capable to accept the fear of God.”
Finally, we are reminded that it is not enough to just do these things in an empty and mindless way. It is not the works that save us, but God alone. Regardless of what we do, we rely on the grace of God to bless our efforts and to provide the fruit. St. Symeon the New Theologian writes,
“Just as the farmer wearies himself by merely plowing, digging and sowing the seed on the ground, but it grows and produces fruit early and late (cf. Jms. 5:7) by God’s gift, so it is in reality, as you will discover, in spiritual matters. It belongs to us to engage in every activity and with much toil and weariness to sow the seeds of virtue, but by God’s gift and mercy alone the rain of His loving-kindness and grace falls and causes the unfruitful soil of our hearts to bear fruit. When the grain of the word falls on our souls it receives the moisture of God’s goodness; it germinates, grows, and becomes a great tree” (cf. Mt. 13:31-32) (The Discourses; Paulist Press pgs. 219-220)
May our Lord Jesus give strength to our efforts and soften our hearts and may He pour out His great grace so that our struggles may be fruitful. AMEN.