But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience (St. Luke 8:15).
There is a startling moment in today’s Gospel wherein the disciples ask the Man whom they have been following but for a short time to explain to them what the parable He just told them means. By this point in Jesus’ ministry, great crowds had begun following Him, no doubt urged on in their dogged pursuit by the divine power His healing miracles revealed to men and women whose cries to God for so long had seemed to be unanswered. This feeling of God’s absence has a long history in the Israelite experience, much less the human experience. All of us are united with the Psalmist’s cry, “How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord; for ever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long shall I seek counsel in my soul, and be so vexed in my heart? How long shall mine enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:1-2). Finally, in the healed lepers and repentant prostitutes, the changed men and broken hypocrites, the power of God was moving across the ancient land of promise with undeniable authority—revealing this carpenter from Nazareth as the unique representative of God in the world. Hope is building around Jesus—hope for deliverance from the brutal Romans, hope for a cleansed and restored priesthood, hope for the advent of king greater than David and a prophet greater than Moses. Jesus is all this and more, but His self-revelation is also the final and great answer to the Psalmist’s woe, the final answer to any who have ever felt alone, and in that isolation, despaired.
God is not absent, and in Jesus Christ we come into contact with the great mystery of God the Son entering the creation itself to live and die and rise as one of us. He comes as prophet, priest, and king, and as we see in today’s parable, the Sower of the Word of God, but it is in His answer to the disciples’ questions that we learn the God who has come to save us is not at our beck and call, not a salvation salesmen or greasy politician come to rob us of our futures. Jesus says to the disciples, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand’” (St. Luke 8:10). Christ by quoting Isaiah invokes the same revelation and judgment which can only come from the God humanity has rejected in our rebellion and sin. Just as Isaiah was attacked and murdered by the unrepentant men of his age, so too will Jesus be attacked and murdered by the men who fall into the very categories He reveals in His parable. The frightening and humbling reality of the incarnation, of the Living God walking among men, is just how many people saw Jesus do the impossible, or more accurately, do that which is only possible through the power of our Creator, and yet still refused to believe—how many people saw and heard but had not the eyes or ears to believe. This historical record puts the lie to all those who claim they could have faith if they just saw Jesus heal a leper or make the blind see. Many people obviously saw just that and chose to go home and wait to die as if nothing had happened, or worse, many chose to kill the Sower rather than bear the fruit which makes us truly alive. This response to Christ is the hard edge of today’s too often sentimentalized parable—the just wrath of God is but a response to the unjustified wrath humanity brings against itself and its God when faced with a creation and Creator it tries to ignore or kill.
We see, therefore, that today’s parable is not an abstract lesson or folksy bedtime story; no, Jesus is telling us to beware and rejoice in the great reckoning which is coming. Isaiah’s reckoning saw the fall of Israel due to its false trust in itself rather than the God who sowed and planted it, and the present and future reckoning of the whole world which flows from humanity’s rejection of the Word made flesh will be just as much a fulfillment of God’s promises as the new earth where there will be nothing but good soil. So, in this four verse parable, Jesus has drawn a schematic of all men and their relation to the kingdom in which lives the only hope of our dying race—the only hope to survive a destruction so deadly serious that God allowed us to murder Him so that the creation might be reborn. There is no hiding from this righteous reckoning just as there is no hiding from this parable. We are all contained in Christ’s words, and in those words we are either fruitful or dead.
Which then makes Christ’s explanation of the parable so very important. He tells us the seed is the word of God—here presented as nothing less than life itself: the means by which we will rise from the earth as the incorruptible fruit bearing creatures of the new heaven and Earth. Do we read and listen to the word of God with this reality before our eyes? Perhaps, it is the Scripture’s ubiquity or our own desire to hide from the life found in its pages that causes our attentions to wander and eyelids to close as the word of life is read in church or at home. Perhaps, it is living in this age of constant entertainment and stimulus which falsely fills our souls in the same way a quick meal at McDonald’s ruins our ability to enjoy a mother’s well-prepared feast. I know I feel this pull on my heart and mind and soul, but do we understand the madness of letting anything take the word away from us? Jesus tells us today that the forces which seek to draw us away from the word of God are not innocent or neutral; no, He identifies supernatural darkness personified as our enemy in this fight—the first rebelling creature who desires to enlist us into his death march. Satan hates us because we are made in the image and likeness of the God he hates above all things, and so our grief and frustration and sadness fuel his lust for revenge: our pain is his joy, our death is his twisted mission. How much of our fallen world is a reflection of this evil and terrible mission? How much of the things we are told we must do and have are simply weapons in his arsenal of hate?
Just imagine for a moment all the things which drag us away from reading and hearing and studying the word of God, all the things which draw us away from our only hope and comfort in this lie-riddled world. What’s on my list? Fear, of course, a ridiculous, grownup fear that God won’t be enough; this feeling is insane since God has given me everything I have and everything I will ever have, but its there like the other lies my recovering heart still contains. What about fatigue? I know I live in a time and place filled with inventions which make my life easier than all the generations which came before me, but it’s still so easy to say, “I’m just too tired to hear the words of truth and life today.” What about boredom? Who do we think has convinced us that the blessed means by which our divine Creator reaches into our hearts and souls could ever be boring? Jesus tells us today that whenever I experience boredom upon coming into contact with the God-breathed Scriptures I am engaging in a fight to the death with Satan himself—this reality alone should banish boredom from my vocabulary, but there it lingers, a symptom of the fall it is my duty to fight alongside the Holy Spirit who dwells within me.
And, it is this reality which is the most important for us to hold on to as we reckon with our own participation in this parable. God has not left us alone to die and return to the dirt from whence we came. The Sower has come to plant and to grow an everlasting people who will be harvested on the first day of eternity. Even now we can identify those who bear fruit with patience and a remade hearts. We see St. Paul in today’s epistle glorying in his persecution in the name of Christ, glorying in the very things a fallen world judges as madness and weakness: these are the very things which marked him as a soul ready for the resurrection harvest, ready for the kingdom Christ died and rose to build. But, what about the group of women mentioned right before today’s Gospel reading, “Soon afterward [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means” (St. Luke 8:1-3). These holy women, from entirely different worlds in socio-economic terms, are united together in Christ—following Him wherever He leads, caring for the kingdom which will soon save the world. In the eyes of that world, these women would have been thought to be maniacs or prostitutes for following this Man and His apostles, but who in their right mind cares about the opinions of the blind and the deaf when the author of light and sound calls you to follow Him? Not Paul, not Mary Magdalene, not Joanna or Susanna.
Let us pray our name is on this holy list as well and that we too will be privileged enough to yield our hundredfold in the Sower’s new garden.