Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Soil Cultivation

“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it. Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away. And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.” And He said to them, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Mark 4:3-9)

I enjoy good teaching that leaves me thinking more on the material just reviewed. This past Sunday, our pastor taught on the Parable of Sower/Soils (depending on which title you prefer) from Mark 4:1-20, making the following useful analogy between the soils and men's hearts:
  • Hard soil = hard heart
  • Rocky soil = shallow heart
  • Thorny soil = cluttered heart
  • Good soil = open heart
He then followed up with a series of questions, but the first got my attention: How’s your heart? This got me to thinking: following the theme of the parable, can the soil be made more useful, and whose job is it to improve it?

Logically, it is not as though soil would ever receive only one planting. Farmers, as long as they are working a field, do what they can to improve their soil to gain a better harvest. We recognize, therefore, that since God is the Sower, He is the cultivator of the soil as Clement of Alexandria notes:
Finally there is only one cultivator of the soil of the human soul. It is the One who from the beginning, from the foundations of the world, has been sowing living seeds by which all things grow. In each age the Word has come down upon all like rain. But the times and places which received these gifts account for the differences which exist. (Stromateis 1.7)
It is He who alone has the ability to improve the soil. As the land is worked, there would be opportunity to remove thorns and rocks, and break up ground that had formerly been tamped down through constant wear. Over and again He sows the Word in order that previously poor ground might provide a yield, even as John Chrysostom writes:
For it is the way of the Lord never to stop sowing the seed, even when He knows beforehand that some of it will not respond. But how can it be reasonable, one asks, to sow among the thorns, or on the rock, or alongside the road? Maybe it is not reasonable insofar as it pertains only to seeds and earth, for the bare rock is not likely to turn into tillable soil, and the roadside will remain roadside and the thorns, thorns. But in the case of free wills and their reasonable instruction, this kind of sowing is praiseworthy. For the rocky soul can in time turn into rich soil. Among souls, the wayside may come no longer to be trampled by all that pass, and may become a fertile field. The thorns may be destroyed and the seed enjoy full growth. For had this not been impossible, this Sower would not have sown. And even if no change whatever occurs in the soul, this is no fault of the Sower, but of those who are unwilling to be changed. He has done his part. (Homilies on Matthew 44.5.1)
All this work does not happen immediately. The Holy Spirit is a chief worker in our souls as He broods or hovers over us in preparation of life. He cultivates us so that the seed, the Word of God, which is quick and powerful may cause growth. In addition, it is not as we are unwilling recipients. As opposed to inanimate ground, we respond to the working of the Word and Holy Spirit. True, it may be that the hard, rocky, or thorny heart might be more so in turning away from Sower, however, Augustine had better considerations as he exhorted:
Work diligently the soil while you may. Break up your fallow with the plow. Cast away the stones from your field, and dig out the thorns. Be unwilling to have a “hard heart,” such as makes the Word of God of no effect. Be unwilling to have a “thin layer of soil,” in which the root of divine love can find no depth in which to enter. Be unwilling to “choke the good seed” by the cares and the lusts of this life, when it is being scattered for your good. When God is the sower and we are the ground, we are called to work to be good ground. (Sermons on New Testament Lessons 73.3)
A final question the pastor had was, “How’s your heart?” Or to amend it for my purposes, “Have you taken a soil sample recently?” Let us not be like those who fall away, but instead let us receive the seed for our benefit both now and at the Last Day.
For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned. (Heb 6:7–8)

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