The Seed, The Sower and The Expectant Mother

The Lord spoke this parable:  “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.” When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?”

And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand.’

Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.”   (Luke 8:5-15)

Seeds are not magical dust that bring about some magical change in the soil itself. Rather, seeds are the potential life of any species that must interact with the conditions around them to produce life.  Seeds are thus relational things, just like us humans, and in fact like all things on earth.  The seeds are dependent on other forces to move them through the world to a place where they might germinate, grow and bear fruit.  Those forces can be things like animals or humans, or wind or water, but seeds have no ability to propel themselves.  They are dependent on these other forces.   And the seeds cannot germinate, grow and bear fruit unless they have proper soil conditions, sufficient water, nutrients, air and sunlight.  Seeds are very dependent on the conditions around them to succeed in their purpose.

So it is fascinating that our Lord Jesus  in explaining His parable says that “The seed is the word of God.”  For Christ is acknowledging that the Word of God needs something in this world to carry it out into the world, and needs the conditions of the world to germinate, grow and bear fruit.   The Word of God is not a physical seed but a spiritual one.  Still, it needs to be in relationship with other things in creation to accomplish its mission.  In fact, God has entrusted to the Christian people the mission of planting the Word of God in our own hearts as well as in the hearts of others.  We are responsible for transporting those seeds, and planting them and nurturing them so that the Word of God can bear fruit.   Just as God could not become human without Mary to be His mother, so too God’s Word will bring forth fruit in creation only if we are willing to be the good soil in which this can happen.

And according to Christ’s teaching, we don’t have to pray that God will give us more seeds.  It is not the lack of seed which is even a problem for us.  When it comes to the Word of God, it is not the quantity of seed which brings about the abundant harvest.

“What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”  (Luke 13:18-19)

For even if we accept but one grain of seed and keep it in our hearts, it will bear fruit for God – both spiritual and physical.  For God cares not just about our souls but always also about our bodies and the world we live in.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it. “For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign which shall not be cut off.”   (Isaiah 55:10-13)

What God’s seed needs is good soil, and it is in that good soil that the seed will come to fruition and bring about an abundant harvest.  But again it is not the quantity of seed which is important, for even one seed of God’s Word if it takes root in our hearts will yield an abundance of the fruits of the earth.

Christ’s explanation of the parable of the sower ends (vs 15) with Him comparing the good soil to “a noble and good heart” or a heart which is filled with beauty.  That kind of heart keeps the Word of God and then bears fruit “with patience.”   We have to cultivate our hearts to be good, beautiful, worthy, fine, noble.  And we have to cultivate in ourselves the patience of the good farmer or the successful gardener.

In Christ’s parable, it is not even the case that the good soil gets the most seed, for Christ has it that some seed fell on the good soil and some on the path and some on the rocky soil and some among the weeds.  The sower is generous is freely distributing the seed to all types of soil.  He does not withhold the good seed from the unproductive soil.  God gives rain and sunshine even to the wicked (Matthew 5:45; Luke 6:35-36).

Note also it is not the sower who gives growth to the seed.  The sower’s job is simply to spread the seed broadly over all the soil types.   The ability for the seed to come to fruition and bring an abundant harvest lies, at least in Christ’s parable, in the soil.  And as Christ explains, the different soil types represent us, the people.  It is the intimate relationship between the seed and the soil which is critical.  God has marvelously adjusted the seed and the soil which receives the seed to work together to bring forth the abundant harvest.  Without the seed, the soil cannot spontaneously produce crops, but also without the proper soil, the seed will fail to germinate and produce a viable plant.   God has created a marvelous world in which His Word and we who receive it work together to bring forth a wonderful harvest for God.

And the seed itself when it produces a plant produces more seed.  In effect God’s Word multiplies in us so that we have seed to give to others.  That seed is our deeds, our stewardship, our generosity, all the ways in which we give to the Church and to others.  As we heard last week in the Epistle:

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God; for the rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the saints but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God. (2 Corinthians 9:10-12)

The divine seed, the Word of God, grows in us and allows us to bear fruit – to ourselves create seeds which we then can distribute.  God wants us to be so fruitful, and our faithfulness in the parish community, our giving in Church in part of the fruit which we bear for God.

Or sometimes the seed remains dormant in us prepared for growth, despite our choices and behavior.  This gives each of us and the entire world great hope.  No matter how bad the soil of our heart, or no matter how bad another person appears to us, as long as we are alive or as long as that other person lives, there is in him or her or in us that seed and hope of salvation.  The parable of the sower is a parable of hope for ourselves and for the entire world.  Even poor soil can be amended to become bring forth a crop.  Maybe not as rich a crop as other soil, but it can produce a blessing.

Knowing that the divine seed, the Word of God, is implanted in our hearts, minds and souls, is good reason for us to meditate on what it will take for that seed to gestate in us and produce fruit.  A good mother when she is pregnant takes precious care of that fertilized seed that is implanted in her womb.  She often organizes her life around and in relationship to the seed she bears within her, even though this seed is just a tiny part of her life.  So all of us can learn from the pregnant mother how to care for the seed of God in each of us.

Motherhood is more than something we remember on Mother’s Day.  And the sanctity of human life is more than something we call to mind when we hear Roe V Wade.  Both motherhood and the unborn child are good images for us to understand our relationship to the Word of God.

Sometimes we think that the Church is completely patriarchal, but the image given to us about the Word of God as divine seed being implanted in us means we are to love like a mom so that we can bring forth the good fruit of God.  We each must be a loving pregnant woman, nurturing God’s seed implanted in our lives, in our hearts, in our minds, in our souls, in our homes, in our families.   Indeed, in this sense, Mary, the Mother of God, becomes the very image of what each of us must be to fulfill the good promises of Christ’s Gospel commandments.  In this sense every mom becomes for us an image of what we are to be as Christians, living in God’s world, receiving God’s Word in our hearts.  Here is a case where only the image of a pregnant woman can help us understand the Gospel.

Mother of All the Living Ones

The man called his wife’s name Zoe (Life), because she was the mother of all the living.  (Genesis 3:20)

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As we in America honor our mothers today, we remember that it is through women that we come into the world.  Women have a unique role to play in the life of the world and are involved in God’s life-giving nature in a way that men cannot be.  Even the life-giving incarnation of God, required a woman for our salvation.  Males had no direct role in the incarnation itself, except to be in need of it for salvation.  So motherhood itself is a necessary part of the salvation of every human being.  Males cannot be saved without a woman, which is why all Christians should also honor, Mary, the Theotokos.  As St Elizabeth shows in her own praise of Mary as  “she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?   (Luke 1:42-43)   Elizabeth was overwhelmed that the Mother of the Lord should visit her.

30107253080_7ee0ce7d69_nHowever unique and great the role of motherhood is in the continuation of the human race and in the salvation of all humans, motherhood is not the only role women play in the life of the church.  The ability to give birth is a unique role for women, but not the only role for women in the Church.  Obviously the entire history of women monastics shows us that child birth is not essential for the salvation of women.  There are many women who are saints in our Church, who were never mothers, nor even tried to be.

Women, including mothers, have the same path to salvation as men: through holiness.  There are women Disciples of the Lord such as the Myrrhbearing Women.  There are women who are proclaimed Equal to the Apostles (such Photini the Samaritan Woman and Helen the mother of Constanine).  There are women who are titled Evangelizers   (such as Nina of Georgia  but also God chose women to serve as the first Evangelists – the Myrrhbearing Women carried the message to the male Apostles).   In the Church calendar of saints there are women martyrs, confessors, ascetics, women prophets, deacons, teachers, rulers and monastics.

So while motherhood is a unique role for women in God’s creation and in the Church, it is not the only role for women.  And few women are glorified as saints just for being mothers. The women saints of the Church are generally recognized for all the other roles they played in the life of the Church.

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Mothers like all women can know the Lord.  They can be saints and disciples because they can be imitators of Christ.  Mothers give us life, but they can also be examples of how to love and live for eternal life.   Giving birth is a natural thing, which may be why it is not always the way to holiness.  We are a pro-life Church, and we honor our mothers because they show the sanctity of life in their pregnancies, in giving birth and in their rearing of children.  Mothers reveal a unique relationship between themselves and the infants to whom they are giving life as well as to the life-givingness itself.   Mothers are the human element in the birthing process.   Mothers can be examples not only to their children, but to all women and men of how to follow Christ (Titus 2:3-4), to be His disciple, to experience His presence every day in the most mundane circumstances, in the most natural way.  Jesus in fact says everyone who does the will of God becomes His mother (Mark 3:33-34).  The holiness of motherhood lies in doing God’s will.    And the children of believing mothers are considered to be holy (1 Corinthians 7:14) based on the mother’s faith.

Be blessed like Rebekah

In giving birth to us, in giving life to us, our mothers make it possible for us to experience God, to be in God’s presence.  For this alone, we should thank and honor our mothers.

Motherhood

While today is Mother’s Day in the United States, in Orthodoxy references to mother often bring to mind the Mother of God, Mary the Virgin.

Fr. Georges Florovsky writes, “She [the Virgin Mother] was not just a ‘channel’ through which the Heavenly Lord has come, but truly the mother of whom he took his humanity…Motherhood, in general, is by no means exhausted by the mere fact of a physical procreation…  In fact, procreation itself establishes an intimate spiritual relation between the mother and the child. This relation is unique and reciprocal, and its essence is affection or love…  or could Jesus fail to be truly human in his filial response to the motherly affection of the one of whom he was born…” (Christos Yannaras, Against Religion, p. 128)

 

A Mother’s Love: Even In the Womb

Fetus6months“A child’s upbringing commences at the moment of its conception. The embryo hears and feels in its mother’s womb.  Yes, it hears and it sees with its mother’s eyes. It is aware of her movements and her emotions, even though its mind has not developed. If the mother’s face darkens, it darkens too. If the mother is irritated, then it becomes irritated also. Whatever the mother experiences – sorrow, pain, fear, anxiety, etc. – it is also experienced by the embryo. If the mother doesn’t want the child, if she doesn’t love it, then the embryo senses this and traumas are created in its little soul that accompany it in all its life. The opposite occurs through the mother’s holy emotions.

When she is filled with joy, peace and love for the embryo, she transmits these things to it mystically, just as happens to children that have been born. For this reason a mother must pray a lot during her pregnancy and love the child growing within her, caressing her abdomen, reading psalms, singing hymns and living a holy life. This is also for her benefit. But she makes sacrifices for the sake of the embryo so that the child will become more holy and will acquire from the very outset holy foundations.” (Wounded by Love: The Life and the Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios, p 195)

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms!

We never know a day on earth without your influence.

The Theotokos, Motherhood and Salvation

“Conqueror, adventurer, builder, man is not fatherly in his being.

An ancient liturgical text projects upon the motherhood of the Virgin the light of the divine fatherhood: ‘You have given birth to the Son without a father, the Son whom the Father brought forth before the ages without a mother.’ The virgin Mary’s motherhood is thus a human figure or image of the fatherhood of God. Here we have an explanation of why the religious principle of dependence on the beyond, of receptivity, of communion is expressed so immediately by woman. The particular sensibility to pure spirituality resides far more in the anima than in the animus. It is the feminine soul which is nearest to the sources, to the origins, to birth. The Bible presents woman as the quintessential image of human nature’s spiritual receptivity. In actuality, the promise of salvation was given to woman, for a woman received the Annunciation of the birth of Christ and it was a woman who first saw the Risen Lord, and it is a woman ‘clothed in the sun’ who is the image of the Church and of the heavenly city in the Book of Revelation.

Further, it is in the images of the beloved and the bride that God chose to express his love for us and the marital nature of his communion with us. Finally, the most important fact is that the Incarnation was accomplished in the Virgin’s feminine nature. It is she who gave the Word of God her flesh and blood. To divine fatherhood as a specific feature of God’s very being directly corresponds the motherhood of woman, her receptive capacity for the divine. The whole goal of Christian life is to make of every human being a mother, a being predestined for the mystery of birth, ‘so that Christ may be formed in you’ (Gal. 4:19). Sanctification is precisely the action of the Spirit who makes possible the miraculous birth of Jesus in the depths of the soul. This is why the Nativity symbolizes and expresses the charism of every woman, that of bringing God to birth in destitute souls: ‘The Word is constantly born anew in our hearts.’ says the Letter to Diognetus. For St Maximus the Confessor, the mystic is the one in whom the birth of Christ is manifest. In order to describe his spiritual fatherhood, even St. Paul used the image of motherhood: ‘I undergo the sufferings of childbirth’ (Gal. 4:19).”   (Paul Evdokimov, In the World, Of the Church, pp 234-235)