That on the good ground are they which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.
If there is one image that stands out during this season of Gesimatide and Lent, it must be the image of a garden. Have you noticed how many times we have encountered gardens/vineyards throughout the readings from the Mass and the Daily Office lectionary? During the time of preparing our souls, the image and stories of gardens have sprung up everywhere.
From Morning Prayer this week, we have been reading in Genesis, listening to the creation account and God’s design for man to walk with Him in a perfect Garden. God Himself was the sower as all the soil of the garden freely produced food for man. But things did not go well. Because man desired the role of God, to be the Sower of all Creation, God allowed them their desire.
The Gospel from last week, reinforced this very point! Do you remember the story? A master hires workers for his vineyard at different points throughout the day, but the ones who worked all day were not only discontent at their own payment, they were furious that the master would be so kind to all the other workers. They did not allow God to work his garden, but the men demanded what they wanted or thought they deserved (or what others deserve) upon God.
In the Gospel this week, God is again sowing seed–this time He is doing it to bring man back to Himself. In order to accomplish this, He gives Himself to man freely. Jesus tells us plainly that the seed in the parable is the word of God. So we understand that the seed is not just a thing, but Himself–it is Jesus.
But to any farmer hearing this parable, the sower sounds like a very reckless farmer. Here he is casting precious seeds not on the fertile ground he has prepared, but all over, even on paths and soil he knows is rocky and infertile. God desires so much the life of His creation that he spreads His love recklessly. He is an extravagant lover, hoping to give life to even the most sun worn and trodden land. And, in fact, He sent His only Son to bring his Kingdom to earth. Within the parable, the ground, of course, is our heart–either too tough to receive the Word or too distracted to nurture its grown. Or, the ground may be open to receive the Word of God and live in that fruitful relationship. But how do we prepare our hearts, then, for the Word of God? Like gardening, tending to your own soul requires time–it requires daily work of what might seem menial or simple tasks. I learned this the hard way.
One summer I worked on an olive farm on the Greek island of Lesbos. When I signed up for the job, I saw myself harvesting the olives and taking them to huge machines that press out the olive oil. Turns out that olives are not harvested in the middle of summer. And so for the month I was present, I would head out into the groves of ancient trees and spray the leaves with a natural bug repellent we had made. I realized quickly that in order to reap a large harvest, you must perform daily, menial tasks that slowly benefit the plants and soil. By cooperating with nature, great gains are to be made. But be careful: tending to the soul is NOT self help but giving ourselves over to let Christ work. Tending to the growth of your soul is the process of letting God speak to you, letting Him cast out your sin and growing virtue. You might think that your barren soul is too dry or full of weeds for God to use. You might think that your life is too full of suffering to be redeemed. Let me be clear: those are lies of the devil which pluck the Word of God from you.
Do not lose heart–Christ has sat in that garden of pain and suffering at Gesthemene as he took on the sins and evil of the entire world. It was this same person who also rose again from the dead into a new garden and has promised to be with His people, the Church.I urge you, then, for this Lent, to seek after the ways in which God has promised to give Himself to us, which are the Sacraments. He has bound Himself to baptism when we are incorporated into His Body. He has bound Himself to confirmation when he gives us the gifts of the Spirit. He has bound Himself to receive our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving and return it as His own Body and Blood so that we receive the innumerable benefits of the same. And He has also bound Himself to the Absolution within the Sacrament of Confession where we can quiet our consciences, be free from all sin that binds us, the worldly temptations and cares, and cast ourselves onto His mercy. These sacraments open your life to the Word of God and are the graces given to us in order that we might live through Him. The goal, of course, is to open our hearts to the Word of God so that we may be the good ground, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.