The garden of the heart

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke 8:5-15

We are among the most blessed people in the history of the world.  You might think this is a reference to being citizens of this nation, or a reference to our vast wealth as a society.  Far from it.  What makes us blessed is the fact that we have heard the teachings of Jesus Christ.  If we put that simple fact into context we see that it is not a birthright to know the teachings of Jesus Christ or to even know of the existence of Jesus Christ.  The teachings of Christ have only been revealed to humanity in the last 2000 years and even then only some groups received the good news.  Many, many people around the world are still worshipping idols and teaching others to do so.  Many are following false prophets and still others are claiming to follow Christ although they are in direct conflict with His teachings.  We are blessed to know Jesus Christ, but do we take this knowledge for granted? The Lord is looking for us to dig deep into His word and seek the treasure contained within.

Our Lord Jesus Christ speaks to us in today’s gospel with these words “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.”  He said this to the disciples and it also holds true for us.  The Lord wants to teach us the secrets of the kingdom of heaven!  We are truly blessed!  I thank God that although we are all sinners, He has not left us as orphans or blind men wandering without any idea of what to do next.  He is giving us the words of life.

Today we hear the parable of the sower.  When I was returning to the faith some 15 years ago, this parable meant so much to me.  I had visited many different churches and some of those churches taught that salvation was really easy.  All one had to do was believe in Jesus as Lord and savior, once, and they would be guaranteed salvation.  No struggle, no life of repentance, no effort, no risk.    But thank the Lord that He teaches us the truth with this parable.  The Lord says there are four responses to the word of God, and let’s be clear that the word of God is a reference to Holy Scripture and ultimately to Jesus Christ Himself.

Response one: You hear the word of God and don’t believe.  That is simple and straightforward.  It reminds us that not all people respond positively to the word of God.  It is a matter of faith.  But now we’ll see that not just any old faith will do.

Response two: You hear the word of God and you believe for a while but then you fall into temptation and ultimately fall away.  The word of God found no deep soil to grow strong roots.  The faith was weak and the roots were weaker.

Response three: You hear the word of God and believe but you let everything else in life choke out your love for the word.  The word of God fell in soil that was sufficient but filled with weeds.  The faith and the roots were somewhat healthy, the weeds took their strength and nutrition over time.

Response four: You hear the word of God and keep it with an honest and good heart until you bear fruit.  This is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the fruit of faith.

Ultimately Our Lord Jesus Christ is not interested in seed, or soil or agriculture, but the condition of our hearts.  That’s what this parable is all about.  Is the heart serious about knowing God and keeping His word?  Is the heart mediocre and lukewarm in its application of faith?  Is the heart free and clear of thorns and weeds that will later choke the life out of the tree of faith?

We cultivate our spiritual life like we cultivate a garden or a farm, a business or a marriage.  We don’t throw seeds one day and find fruit or vegetables on the next.  We plow, we water, we weed, we fertilize.  We don’t wake up one day and find that we no longer love God, just like we don’t wake up one day to a bad marriage or a failing business.  These things happen over time.  We find that whatever attention we have invested in the farm will yield its fruit in time.  Likewise we find that if we are neglectful, it will show over time.

So how do we cultivate the word of God in our hearts?  We start by guarding our hearts as it is written in Proverbs 4:23 “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”  This is a primary focus of Orthodox Spirituality, guarding the heart, guarding the senses.  Parents are careful about what their children watch.  Are we as careful about what we see and hear in movies, television shows, music, books and websites?  If you don’t get into the habit of guarding your senses, all the fasting, prayers and vigils will be fruitless.  But if we start with a pure heart then we have a good foundation, good soil.

Christ is the sower who plants good seed.  Let’s allow Him the room to plant and grow in our hearts.  Glory be to God forever AMEN.

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