Christ is born! Glorify Him!
For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned. (Hebrews 6:7-8)
Church fathers and mothers through the centuries sought God’s message in all the texts of Scripture. They often accepted that the text had a literal (face value) meaning, but also understood there to be a deeper, spiritual meaning to the text. So, the above quote from Hebrews is a wisdom saying which is also an observation of nature. The Patristic writers would then look for the spiritual meaning beyond the literal. They would note with St Paul that God is not focused on nature, but rather on us humans, and so we have to look for the text’s meaning for our lives. [Which is not to say nature in insignificant for it too is God’s creation which God loves (John 3:16), only that God sends His revelations and messages to us humans, not to nature. And, though nature teaches us wisdom and can help us know about God, still, God’s full revelation cannot be known only through nature.] Just consider St Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:9-11 –
For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of a share in the crop. If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits?
St Paul points out that though the Law has a literal meaning (don’t prevent oxen from eating grain when they are turning a millstone – indeed, it warns against abusing animals for the sake of financial greed), the text has a more important meaning for us as all the law is written about us, not about oxen (who aren’t concerned about whether or not the law is kept). The idea to treat one’s domesticated animals properly is a human wisdom that doesn’t require any revelation or law from God. So, when such human wisdom appears in the Scriptures, the Patristic writers saw that it had some more spiritually significant, and perhaps hidden, meaning.
The above pericope from Hebrews 6 speaks literally about rain falling on the ground and being a blessing when it causes the ground to bear fruit rather than noxious weeds. However, as a wisdom saying, it has a deeper meaning about us humans and our being blessed by God to bear spiritual fruit rather than to commit sins. The unknown 6th Century Syrian monk now called Pseudo-Macarius shows us a meaning for this text in two comments:
1] If the love of God dwells within you, it is necessary that such love bring forth other fruit, such as fraternal love, meekness, sincerity, perseverance and prayer, and zeal and all virtues. But since the treasure is precious, so also great are the laborers necessary to obtain it. Such persons do not strut in show before others, but do all in order to please the Lord, who knows all hidden things, whom we must always be directed toward, and who scrutinizes the interior of the spirit. (THE FIFTY SPIRITUAL HOMILIES, p 264)
2] The fruits of sincere prayer are simplicity, love, humility, fortitude, innocence, and other things similar to these. . . . When we cultivate a vineyard, the whole of our attention and labor is given in the expectation of the harvest. If there is no vintage, all our work is to no purpose. Similarly, if through the activity of the Spirit we do not perceive within ourselves the fruits of love, peace, and the other qualities mentioned by St Paul (Galatians 5:22), then our labor for the sake of virginity, prayer, psalmody, fasting, and vigil is useless. (THE FIFTY SPIRITUAL HOMILIES, p 268)