I think we are all familiar with the parable of the sower. Our Lord’s own explanation of the parable makes it clear that in order to be fruitful we must receive the Word of God (the seed) deep into the soil of our hearts and there, with single minded attention to God, let it grow. First we must clear up a misunderstanding. This concerns what the “Word” actually is. Some suppose that the Word is simply the Word of God in the Scriptures but listen to what Jesus says about the Word in the Gospel of St John, Chapter 5 verses 39 to 40:
39 You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.
So the Word, is in fact Jesus Christ. The words of Scripture testify to Christ and as Saint Jerome says, “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ”. However, once we have come to Christ, signposted if you like by the Scriptures, then it is Christ himself who makes us fruitful. Now we cannot be fruitful in our lives unless we let the Holy Spirit work within us to bring that growth which only comes from and in Christ.
How then can we work together with God to become more fruitful? The parable of the sower shows us how; we must yield to the Sower, which is the Father. No one ever grew spiritually for salvation without such yielding to the Father’s hand. Just as plants in the garden benefit from the Gardener so must we. This again is explained by Jesus in St. John’s Gospel but this time the Father-Gardener is a dresser of vines:
1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me”. (John 15:1-4)
“Abide in Me” – “Live in Me” – that is live in Christ. To live in Christ is to love Him. To love Him is to receive Him and above all to listen to Him in our hearts so that we might bear good fruit. It is this listening to the Word, to Christ, that we will now in this homily explore and seek to understand better so that both of these parables - that of the Sower and the Vine, may become a living word in our lives.
Today, sadly, many people do not truly listen. Sometimes they barely even hear! Ears are muffed by headphones, attention is absorbed by addictive computer games, sometimes simply the mind is somewhere else, not present and attentive. In part, this is due to the ever present background of noise that permeates our lives. It simply becomes so difficult to pick out the “still small voice” in the midst of all this babble. Babble of course comes from the eponymous Tower of Babel, that structural arrogance against God destroying the unity of humankind and its ability to communicate with itself or with God.
The first step in learning to listen to Christ is to set aside a place in the time when there is no babble and He can have our undivided attention. Here we can actually hear God and even maybe listen to what He is saying to us. There is a big obstacle, however, to overcome before we even get to that point and that is our fear of silence. Silence to modern man is like that great abyss in which there is only darkness and dread. This too is his alienation from God. Silence, however, is actually full of light and peace, a vast cathedral in the heart where the saints and angels play and where Christ and the Holy Spirit are already waiting to commune with us. So let us put away our ungodly fear of silence, enter into it with a sober mind and a prayerful heart and then truly listen to what the Word, Christ has to say to us.
So often in the Divine Liturgy, the deacon says to the people: “Wisdom let us attend!“ Attentive listening to the Word, to Christ, does bring Wisdom. Careless listening to the Word is shown by seeds that fall on stony ground and paths but do not take root because they have no soil. Fruitfulness comes from giving God, and for that matter each other, our full attention. Most of us in prayer to God and in listening to each other struggle with distraction, but we should perhaps thank God that there is indeed a struggle going on for he gives a crown of victory to those who persevere and, therefore, prevail … not to those who sleep on the job!
When we have come to that point in our spiritual lives where we yearn for silence rather than fear it, where we not just hear but listen and indeed listen with full attention, then the sweetness of Christ’s voice and the fullness of Wisdom imparted by the Holy Spirit will make us truly fruitful. We will then become “doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves,” to quote St James (1:22). Do not we all wish to bear good fruit rather than expose our barrenness to God? Well, let us then receive Wisdom as we attend!