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Parable of the Sower
October 15, 2017
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The story is told of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, "I murdered my grandmother this morning." The guests responded with phrases like, "Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir." It was not till the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, "I'm sure she had it coming."
Isaiah 6:10 For the heart of this people has become unfeeling (ἐπαχύνθη), and their ears are dull (βαρέως) of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.
There are many reasons that we don’t hear people. I’m not talking about natural hearing loss that comes with old age. I’m also not talking about the effects of standing for four years in front of a bank of huge Vox and Fender amplifiers for a three-hour gig, with the volume cranked to eleven. I’m talking about something else. I’m talking about another kind of deafness. Exhibit A: It’s evening. Wife says to husband in recliner: “Honey, the garbage needs to go out!” He answers: “Uh-huh. OK.” He never heard it. 1:00 am, he’s still in the recliner, unconscious, the TV is running an ad about a little egg-like device that scrapes away foot calluses. It’s gross, just like the garbage that has yet to be taken to the bin. However, if earlier the wife had said “How about some ice cream?” Well! That would have gotten a much different response. That would have resulted in not only crystal-clear hearing, but possibly even some spontaneous action – springing up out of the chair, perhaps to fetch bowls and spoons. So what’s the difference? The difference is: with the latter he is getting something, something that he likes, something that pleases him. With the former, however, he is being asked to do something for others, do something unpleasant, and worst of all, do something that is disturbing his “wa,” a useful Japanese word meaning his sense of harmony and balance. Listening without hearing is bad. Selective hearing loss, especially in the domestic church – the home- is even worse.
So, what about spiritual hearing? Can we suffer from spiritual hearing loss? Can we sort-of pick and choose what we want to hear from God? We certainly can and we often do. That’s why Jeremiah said: “Hear ye now, O foolish and senseless people; who have eyes, and see not; and have ears, and hear not: will ye not fear me? saith the Lord...But this people has a disobedient and rebellious heart” Jeremiah 5: 21,23). That’s right, spiritual deafness comes from spiritually diseased hearts.
The Lord, in today’s Gospel, illustrates the four ways in which we might hear and/or respond to the Word of the Lord: 1. the road, 2. the rock, 3. the thorns, and 4. the good soil. “The the mysteries of the Kingdom of God have been given to you” the Lord says, precisely because you want to hear it. It is not given to others because for one reason or another they actually don’t want to hear it – not really! Having eyes they see not and having ears they hear not. As I alluded to before, it’s a problem of the heart. Let’s look at these four kinds of hearts.
Number 1. This heart is like a road. It has lots of traffic. It’s hard to make out one person among crowds that are pushing and moving. These are the people who listen to many devils far more than they are accustomed to listening to the one God. What did the Lord Jesus say? “The devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.” The devil does not want us to be saved, so he grooms us, perverted serpent that he is, he grooms us constantly, unrelentingly, sweetly hissing into our ears from the prevailing culture, from the news, from the movies, from our political affiliations, from our friends, things that sound good, things that sound right, things that sound moral. He feeds us a sweet confection, a coating of truth, but inside is the death-dealing poison of his lies. And, like Eve, we get seduced by his constant attentions and so we listen to him. When God’s voice, God’s word, comes to us, the devil tells us to reject it, and cast it out of our hearts.
Number 2. The rock heart repels the word of God. A rock cannot absorb the living water of Christ’s word. It simply rolls off. The stony and hard heart doesn’t really want to know God. The stony and hard heart doesn’t really love God. But we can pray, and God can change that stony heart of ours if we work at it. He says through the prophet Ezekiel: “I will give them another heart, and will put a new spirit within them; and will extract the heart of stone from their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh: that they may walk in my commandments, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be to me a people, and I will be to them a God” (Ezekiel 11:19-20).
Number 3 is the heart choked by thorns. That is, it is a heart that is totally distracted by the world, and totally immersed in it’s own love of itself. It’s the guy on the recliner. He can’t be bothered with commandments or ordinances. He can’t even be bothered with simple, easy requests. He is totally choked-out by his own self-indulgence. What a pity! He has no time for his own salvation. He has no time for his eternity. But blessed Fr. Seraphim Rose reminds him: “It’s later than you think!”
Number 4 heart is the good soil heart. What is good soil? How can we become good soil? This is really the focus of the parable, isn’t it? What is good soil? Good soil has been broken-up with the plow of humility, large stones and then smaller stones of the passions have been removed, the fertilizer of fervent faith, the reading of the holy fathers, and the lives of the saints have been added to enrich it, and it has been watered with the ever-flowing grace of God which can only come with tears of repentance and prayer. Good soil has a fence around it, the Church, to keep it secure from ravenous beasts and evil men. Good soil hearts are always in church, secure within her walls. The good soil heart must be looked after, constantly tended, constantly weeded. There is a lot of effort involved in having soil that can receive the good seed and produce the good fruit. It does not just “happen.” Jane G. Meyer, an Orthodox writer, has written in her wonderful children’s book ‘The Hidden Garden’ the following: “Within every heart is a hidden garden. We can neglect it until the weeds take over and the flowers wither and die. Or, with the help of Christ, we can care for it and make it a place of beauty, grace, and joy.”  Amen.