SERMON FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF LUKE AFTER THE SUNDAY FOLLOWING THE EXALTATION OF THE CROSS (Luke 8:5-15)
The Divine Word being Sown in the Hearts of Men. – The Character and Quality of Human Hearts.
The Lord likens the divine word to the physical entity known as seed, while, on the other hand, He likens the human heart in which it is sown to soil, that is to say, to the various parts of land having different qualities and different characters, to wit:
- to soil that has been trodden upon and so hardened that the seed cannot take root herein but, on the contrary, stays on the surface and thus becomes the prey, or food, of birds, who, be it noted, are particularly fond of eating seed;
- to rocky soil – soil consisting for the most part of stones – wherein the seed sown no sooner takes root than it dies for want of nourishing juices and dries up;
- to thorny soil, in which the seed sown and growing up amidst the thorns is strangled and suffocated as though choked to death by the surrounding thorns;
- to level and fruitful soil that is fertile with an abundant yield.
The Lord likens human hearts to these four qualities of earthy soil, saying:
“A sower went forth to sow his seed. As he sowed some of it fell by the wayside; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some of it fell upon the rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked nourishing juices. And some of it fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And some other of it fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bore fruit a hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 8:5-8).
He that sows the divine word is God, a good and benevolent sower who has good seed: the word of God is the truth. The words of God are spirit and life, saith Christ. So God sows the word, which is to say, He teaches it to the ears of men, sows it into the hearts of men. But the hearts of men are not all of the same moral character. Some of them resemble the footpath, in which, because it is trodden down, the seed fails to take root, but, instead of doing so, remains on the surface exposed to the hungry inclination and devouring propensity of birds. Other hearts resemble rocky soil, in which one sows seed in vain, because what is sown is not supplied with strength to grow up, but, on the contrary, dries up and withers away almost as soon as it begins to spring up. Other hearts, again, resemble thorny soil, in which the seed that has sprung up is quickly choked and strangled to death by the thorns that sprang up with it. Still other hearts, however, resemble the soil of good ground in which seed grows apace and multiplies a hundredfold.
Hearts that Resemble a Footpath
The heart that resembles a footpath is one that hears the divine word but fails to imbibe it so as to conceive the meaning of it and allow it to sprout and bear fruit. In other words, such a heart does indeed hear the divine word, but it takes no interest in it, and does not care to understand what it hears and to make it an object of thought, and to act in accordance therewith in actual life. More briefly speaking, it bears without grasping the sense. Later the Devil comes along, says Christ, and takes the word away from such a heart, in order to prevent its believing the word and being saved through faith therein. For, if it really believed, it would have imbibed deeply into its inner recesses the divine word which it heard and would have allowed it to produce fruit in the way of virtues. For the fruit produced by the divine word in the heart of man means the acquisition of virtues by the latter.
Superficial hearts, however, are of insufficient depth to imbide the divine word when they hear it. They have been trodden down and rendered insusceptible of cultivation. They droop heavily downwards toward matter and are interested only in what is of a material nature. They feel the power of silver and of gold, but not the power of the divine word. Being strongly inclined to objects of vanity, they are filled with carnal desires; and being engrossed in vile desires they have not the ability to understand the meaning and to appreciate the value of the divine word. They hear it, because the divine word falls upon the ears of all when it is preached, but their attention is elsewhere, and, inasmuch as they are not listening, their hearing is confined to the mere sound of the words, the sense of which escapes them entirely. Their hearing may, therefore, be described as superficial and thoughtless and senseless. They cannot understand the saying of the prophet: “Thy words have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Ps. 119:11). They sin, in fact, because they have not the word of God as a guide in the course of their life.
Hearts that Resemble Rocky Soil
A heart that resembles rocky soil is one that receives the divine word within it for a time, but rejects it on the occasion of temptation and of affliction. It hears the divine word and in the beginning welcomes it, but because it is a heart that is hard and rocky the divine word does not penetrate deeply into its depth and is not conceived in a fertile manner. Consequently, when surges of affliction, of worry, of temptations overwhelm it, it forsake faith and fails to persist therein. The seed that has fallen by the wayside is eaten up by the birds; that which has fallen on rocky soil fails to thrive and produces no results. A gust of strong wind drags it along and uproots it, because it has nor been planted deeply enough. By means of the wicked suggestions and evil thoughts which the Devil rouses in opposition to the divine word, the Devil succeeds in prevailing in such a heart and renders it cold and unresponsive to the divine word, or even altogether faithless. By means of afflictions, worries, and temptations tending to thwart faith in the divine word or to abrogate it entirely, the Devil gains the upper hand, and succeeds in persuading the heart to abandon its faith. In fact, hearts are tried by means of temptations. Accordingly, those hearts which are defeated and which abandon their faith, and which forsake the divine word like a deserter in the midst of battle, are thus proved to be of the rocky kind; wherefore the Lord likens them to rocky soil of the earth, by saying: “Now the parable is this: The seed is the Word of God. Those by the wayside are they that hear; then cometh the Devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. Those on the rock are they who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; even these have no root who for a while believe but in time of temptation fall away” (Luke 8: 11-13).
In the beginning the rocky heart that hears the word welcomes it and believes in it, but its faith and belief is superficial, shallow, without depth – faith and belief that is upon the lips, but unable to retain its position when the heart is seized and held in the grip of afflictions and of temptations. The power of temptations is stronger in such a heart than is the power of faith in the divine word. Accordingly, just as a plant that has been planted but has not been planted deeply, but, on the contrary, in a shallow place is easily uprooted by a strongly blowing wind, so is shallow faith that is not deeply planted in the heart easily uprooted by a strongly blowing moral wind. In times of happiness and when in good humor we easily believe in the divine word, and we teach it to others too, and we are inclined to consider our happiness to be the result of our faith, without realizing that our faith, as a matter of veritable fact is rather the result of our happiness. But when unhappiness and privation come upon us, when temptations rise up against us, we are led to abandon our faith, we become scandalized, and if our heart is of the rocky kind we fall away.
Hearts that Resemble Thorny Soil
A heart that resembles thorny soil is one that is full of cares and worries, and of wealth and of the sensual pleasures of life. This heart hears the divine word, but its many cares and abstractions, the passions it entertains and its many and multitudinous desires to become rich, and its love of pleasure and love of the world and of worldly things prevent it from believing and from acquiring a solid and firmly-rooted faith. Being strongly obsessed with the cares of life and with desires and pleasures, it is incapable of listening to the divine word with attention; in consequence it does not allow it to sink deeply into the bottom of it, to become a light to its thoughts and reflections, a law to its actions and a rule whereby to regulate its activities, a source of power to its will, and a guide to its life. Dearer to it are the pleasures and the passions and the cares of life, love of money, greed, love of the world and of worldly things, and vainglory, or vain ambitions. Unfortunately, however, such are the great majority of men!
The divine word dins their ears, but their heart is not thereby pleased and takes no pleasure in it, because it entertains contrary desires. They do not decide and resolve to get rid of these desires and hindrances to salvation., nor do they ever stop to think that they are bound to appear in person before a judge that cannot be bribed. The lure ‘of pleasures and of vanities deceives them, and in consequence they remain fettered and shackled in pleasures and the enjoyments of life, especially those in which sensuality prevails over reason. As concerning such hearts, Jesus says: “And that which fell among thorns are they who, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life and bring no fruitful results.”
Hearts that Resemble Good Ground
A heart that resembles good and level ground is one that welcomes the divine word, gladly cultivating it within its own recesses, meditating it, and cherishing it like a precious treasure. Such a heart regards the divine word as a light to its own thoughts and cogitations, a law and rule to its own actions and activities, a source of power to its own will; in fact, such a heart is ready to sacrifice everything to the divine word and considers nothing else so dear and precious as the divine word. Such a heart shines forth in virtues and enthusiastic zeal. It follows in the footsteps of Christ with self-denial and self-sacrifice and singing the grand refrain, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.) Nay, in all these things we are conquerors through him who hath loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor governments, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35-39). As concerning hearts of this kind, our Savior says: “But that on the good ground are they who, with an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.”
But cannot the footpath be converted into level ground, and the rocky soil likewise be dealt with? Cannot the thorny soil be changed into fertile soil productive of good seed? Yes, the footpath and the rocky soil can be converted into level ground by cultivation, and by prohibiting wayfarers from passing over it, by clearing it of the rocks and stones encumbering it, or by overlaying the rocky soil with a layer of good soil, by removing the thorns and by clearing the ground of stones and of bad seeds. But likewise it may be asserted also that hearts can be changed through instruction and education and breeding, through repentance and the sobering means available to control the passions.
Accordingly, we actually see prostitutes converted and changed into modest women; and we see criminals and malefactors converted and changed into doers of good through the process of repentance. Those, on the other hand, who refuse to repent remain like the footpath, and the rocky soil, and the thorny soil. Upon all such the divine word when sowed brings forth no fruit of virtue.
Man is the possessor of a free will, and it is his duty to choose freely that which is best for himself. God speaks into his ears, and shows him what is good and what is bad, and points out salvation on the one hand and perdition on the other, leaving man free to choose between the two alternatives. But the passions, the desires, the cares, the temptations, the contrary thoughts all oppose the voice of God and exercise their influence in their endeavor to dissuade the heart of man from adhering to God, and from believing in and becoming devoted to the divine word. The Devil offers countless objections in order to confuse the intellect so as to prevent it from seeing in the light of the divine words and to have it travel in the darkness of vanity and of pleasure. Accordingly, it finds it easy to catch uninstructed souls in its snare, but it cannot well ensnare those which have been instructed and refined. The latter souls are able to fly, and do fly so high in fact that the Serpent crawling on the ground cannot lift himself high enough to be able to devour them, as he does lower-minded souls. They save themselves in the bosom of God, and by reposing in Him they find their everlasting happiness, because of the fact that while they were living upon the earth they sincerely believed in the Word of God and brought forth fruit of virtue a hundredfold.