“IF TODAY YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, HARDEN NOT YOUR HEARTS” – IT’S PLANTING SEASON!
Being a gardener, and having grown up on a farm, I love Jesus’ teachings in the parables about “seeds” and “soil”. Those words and images and stories don’t act solely as convenient analogies, although they do that as well, they also give us deep insight into our true nature and the right relationship we should have with God our Father and Creator.
Brother Anthony – whom I mention frequently because I worked with Him for 2 years on one of His books while living as a hermit at the Trappist Monastery in Rogersville, N.B. many years ago – wrote in His Opus Magnum, “The Revelation of the Son of Man,” the following words:
Br. Anthony always had a monk and/or hermit “pray” while he “worked,” so he used a pseudonym instead of His name: Levi Khamor [Hebrew: Levi = “joined” + Khamor = “donkeys”].
There is a wisdom in scripture with donkeys and oxen, having to do with the theme of today’s Gospel to some degree. We understand by “hearing” – we know by “seeing” – donkeys have been ears and are equated with “understanding”; oxen have little ears and big eyes and are equated with “knowing”. We understand what we hear with attention; we know what we see with our own two eyes.
Hearing the Word of God in such a way as to bring it into the heart as a seed takes big ears like those of a donkey.
“The ox knows [because it ‘sees’] its owner, and the donkey [understands] its master’s manger [understands and remembers where it is], but Israel does not know; My people do not understand.” [Isaiah 1:3].
When two donkeys are joined, the Understanding of Truth and the Glory of God is revealed for all to see, just as it was when Jesus rode into Jerusalem with TWO DONKEYS (Levi Khamor), requesting not one but two for a very precise reason:
“As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent out two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt beside her. Untie them and bring them to Me.” [Matthew 21: 1-3]
Today’s beautiful little parable about the Sower (Jesus) who went out to sow seed (Jesus) is a triumph in being able to gain insight into what the life of the Spirit entails, at least for those with big lonnnnng ears to hear, like a donkey.
Let’s decode the analogy, then analyse the teaching structurally so as to gain insight.
THE “SEED” IS THE “WORD OF GOD” INCARNATE – JESUS
Unless a material seed can be seen, touched, picked up and planted, it won’t grow in the real world. That’s why the Israelites looked to the future coming of the messiah for salvation – it was necessary for the spiritual and eternal Word of God to be incarnated into the World to become a visible “seed” of salvation for God’s lost children who were collectively enslaved to sin:
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” [John 1: 14].
Notice the “Alleluia” before the Gospel today clarifies how the sower in the parable is “Jesus”.
So get the “deeper” meaning picture straight: Jesus the “sower” is sowing Jesus the “eternal Word,” as “seed” in the hearts of the people in the crowds, by SPEAKING the words of life, the Good News of salvation, of the eternal mercy and love of God who sent His only begotten Son into the world not to condemn it, but to save it.
That gift of salvation is offered to everyone, with seed cast indiscriminately e.g., Jesus sowing Himself in His words to everyone in the crowds, offering life to them all equally, then waiting to see if His words would take root and grow in His hearers.
And let’s not forget that “unless a seed dies,” it does not magnify itself, nor produce any fruit containing many more “seeds of life,” spreading the Kingdom of God, and magnifying the Lord.
Jesus gave that teaching about the seed needing to die to announce that He would soon “fall to the ground of humanity” and die, as a seed giving life to us all:
“But Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life will lose it, but whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.’ “ [John 12: 23-25].
THE HEART IS THE WHERE THE SEED IS SOWN
We are truly – as Brother Anthony explained so beautifully in the above passage – “earth people.” By accepting and keeping the seed of God’s Word in the ground of our heart, we make it possible – just like the soil in a garden makes it possible for the seed to be “activated” to do what it is the nature of the seed to do in God’s plan and Will – for God to “take us up” into the spiritual life of God, just like the water in the soil make it possible for the nutrients in the soil to be taken up by the growing seed,gradually transforming the seed into something new (a plant) which if tended to properly produces fruit containing many more seeds!
Such is the manner in which we are transformed from being “earthly souls” to “spiritual beings” sharing the very same life that is the life of God revealed to us in fullness by Jesus our Lord and Savior, but also our human brother!
When we accept the Word that is Jesus (seed) into our heart and tend to it daily, on it’s own power, the power of God, the power of the Spirit of love and truth and life itself, the seed mysteriously brings forth the accomplishment for which the Word was issued by God:
“For just as rain and snow fall from heaven and do not return without watering the earth, making it bud and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, 11so My word that proceeds from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please, and it will prosper where I send it.” [Isaiah 55:10-12].
We may think that “we” are bringing something into our heart when we receive the word of God, but that’s just the human language used in the parable focusing on the “free will” we have to either “receive” or not receive the Word.
More accurately, the spiritual dynamics and movement is exactly in the opposite direction: when we receive the Word of God (Jesus) into our heart we do so by surrendering our human will, replacing it with God’s Will, and by giving our entire “desire” (same thing as “heart”) to Jesus, we are then – brace yourself – TAKEN UP INTO THE HEART OF JESUS as He becomes Lord of our life; our body truly becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the Will of the Father is manifest in and through us to others as it was and is and always will be in Jesus, who we imitate as perfectly as we can by allowing him to “kick us through the goalposts of life,” as the sublimely wise country and western hit explains!
We should think of that wider context whenever we read and reflect on the parables (there are several) of the sower – ponder the marvellous life available to us in God when we accept the seed of His Word, the forgiveness of our sins, the power of His Holy Spirit, and life eternal…it will motivate us to work harder to always keep the soil of our heart in top-notch growing condition allowing God’s Word (Jesus) and trinitarian presence enveloping our own human spirit to take deep root, where it will not be forgotten but nourished, remaining vigorous, healthy and strong.
When we accept the gift of salvation that comes as a “word” we hear and “believe” (take into our heart and keep attentive to daily).
To accept the seed of God’s Word in our hearts, of course our hearts must be soft like watered ground (moistened with the tears of sorrow for our sins) and not “hard-hearted” and obstinate, as it says so often in Scripture, because our hearts are truly ground, and everyone knows hard ground can’t receive seeds.
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will rem].ove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” [Ezekiel 36:26
Gardening should be – at every step of the process – a powerful prayer leading us to a much deeper understanding of life. It is tragic that the glorification of “human technology” has separated us from appreciating and experiencing the great glory of God’s creation and corrupted a sense of who we really are in the grand scheme of things.
We’re dirt, but that dirt has the potential to become fully alive manifesting the great glory of God thanks to the mercy and love of God revealed in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.
We too are ground, so when we garden in the material world with God’s created material seeds, plants and all the amazingly-complex biological processes we can’t understand so we sum up by calling “life,” then we can begin to experience a richer and far more intimate relationship with God, an experience one does not get from a virtual computer simulation.
Experiencing the contemplative dimension of gardening requires a bit of prayerful preparation and effort though…but with that preparation comes an amazing blending and union of the spiritual with the material that I can’t help thinking with be a “natural” way of living in the soon-to-be-dawning era of peace following the illumination of conscience.
Sadly, a whole lot of death and destruction (shudder), the three days of darkness must come first. Then there will be a powerful transformation of those remaining open and faithful to God, and, by God’s mercy and grace, and decisive intervention, in a manner and on a scale never before seen in the history of the world, affecting nearly 8 billion people simultaneously, a new era will be established by God with a majestic display of His great power and authority.
NOT ALL “STATES OF THE HEART” RECEIVE THE WORD IN THE SAME WAY
This parable speaks of four different “states” of the heart, likened to where the “seed” lands. I put a graphic of that in the attached, which is instructive and worth pondering. Everyone must look within themselves to discern the state of their own heart – the condition of the soil – to determine what gardening work may need to take place to receive the Word in such a way so as to ensure it thrusts deep and secure roots into our very being and begins a rapid process of spiritual transformation within us – that reflection is entirely personal in nature, so I’ll leave you to it.
EARS TO HEAR = A HUMBLE HEART OPEN TO RECEIVE THE WORD OF GOD
As you ponder those different states and ask yourself whether there are any characteristics mentioned in the parable that describe your own heart, recall that Jesus NEVER spoke to the crowds without speaking in parables (there was never just a “crowd” around Jesus, you’ll notice, but “crowds”). Why only parables?
Because parables test the heart to see if it is open to truth like a seed tests the quality and state of the place it lands to see if it can take root. Jesus spreads the seed of truth everywhere indiscriminately, speaking to everyone in the “crowds,” just as the Father:
“But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. This will make you children of your heavenly Father. For he causes his sun to rise on evil people as well as on those who are good, and his rain falls on both the righteous and the wicked.” [Matthew 5:44-45].
If the ground of a person’s heart is hardened and not open to receive the word of truth, then the teaching in the parable will sound like nonsense.
If, however, the eyes of the soul have been moistened with the tears of true repentance, the humus (humility) softens and becomes open to truth, at which point all the material, visual aspects of the parable’s teaching take on a deeper spiritual meaning that is both insightful and transformative for the listener, who, by “hearing” (listening attentively and taking the word “in” like a seed going into the ground) begins the process of being attached to the Vine (Jesus) as a branch where we become like Him through participation in His Holy Spirit.
“We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly to the end the assurance we had at first. As it has been said:“Today, if you hear His voice,do not harden your hearts, as you did in the rebellion.” For who were the ones who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt?” [Hebrews 3: 15-17].
To rebel against God is to take back our will and stand apart from Him. It’s to say, “I want what I want and I’m going to try to get it,” rather than “Not my will, but thine be done oh heavenly Father,” as Jesus said in the Garden of Gethsemane.
To stand apart from God, demanding our will be done and not God’s will, is to have our heart’s hardened by sin’s “deceitfulness.” Such an attitude without gratitude blinds us to the right-relationship that we are to have with God – as Br. Anthony wrote:
“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a wicked heart of unbelief that turns away from the living God. But exhort one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” [Hebrews 3:13].
It is not at all surprising that we hear multiple times in the book of Revelations the exhortation: “if you have ears to hear” because in the days describe in that sacred book, there is little faith left on the earth, and the global masses have been ensnared by a great deception that is a sinful deceit so massive that it has indeed hardened the hearts of most people, closing them to the truth.
And in Revelation 13:9, immediately following a description of the Antichrist, we read:
“Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
“Jesus, as each day brings us closer to the great sufferings you warned us would come in these last days, give us the discernment to know what we need to know and what we should disconnect from so as not to be hurt by the deception and evil within which the political and media institutions are embroiled. Let the birds of the air eat all the evil darnel so it never takes root in our heart to smother out the food that gives life to our soul, You Jesus, the bread of life.
Give us wisdom to forge our own experiences daily with others that are entirely authentic and true, expressions of life in the Spirit, based on no deceit or malice or ill intent whatsoever, but life that’s perpetual worship that magnifies the glory of God in all we do and say, because with the power of your Spirit that we ask you to give us this day, which we believe you will give us, then all that we do and say will be in imitation of what you did and said, and what you commanded us to do and say, for the love of neighbour and the greater glory of God.” Amen.