Sermon for the 21st Sunday After Pentecost (2017)

Sermon for the 21st Sunday After Pentecost (2017) - Holy Cross Monastery

Homily on St. Luke 8:5-15


In today’s Gospel reading, we heard about the garden of the heart, that area in each person wherein the grace of the Holy Spirit acts and, depending on how the heart has been cultivated, helps each grow spiritually.

A sower goes out to sow his seed, and some fall on the wayside, some on the rocks, some amidst thorns, and some on good soil. Only the seed which fell on the good soil grew to produce a crop of a hundredfold.


How are we to understand this Gospel passage? We should understand that the purpose of instructing with parables is not to convey images which are visible to the eyes of the body. Rather, those images which are understood by our senses are used to communicate spiritual and intellectual realities to the eyes of the mind.[1] As an example, the “seed” which will not produce fruit in any soil except that of he who is of a noble and good heart, that seed is, according to St. Gregory Palamas, “The word of instruction,” but also, “the words of eternal life, the commandments of immortality, the promise of restoration to life, the gospel of the kingdom of heaven.”[2]

In the parable that we read today, we are told that this “seed,” this word of instruction and of eternal life, falls on four different types of soils.

First, on the soil of the wayside, the seed will only sit on surface. It has been hardened by the traffic and therefore this seed is easily stolen away.

Secondly, the seed that falls on rock will take root into the soil that has formed in the crevices of the rock, but this root is small, and the soil not deep enough. Therefore, there will be some initial growth, but when the temptations of the world break in, this heart is easily shaken.

Thirdly, the seed that falls amidst the thorns has soil to grow in and enough to support healthy roots but growing amidst thorns, this seed sprouts and is strangled and torn by the riches and the pleasures of the world.


Would we not consider it unreasonable for a Sower to sow his seeds in these areas when we know the seeds will most probably not grow? The obvious answer is, “Yes,” but when we consider men’s souls and their instruction, then this scattering of seed is praiseworthy, says St. John Chrysostom. Praiseworthy indeed because in man the wayside can become untrodden, rocky ground can become fertile, thorns can be destroyed, and the soil of his heart made productive. If this were not so then the sower would not have sown his seeds there.[3]

These differing soils are not unchangeable states, that is, not unchangeable hearts, as though our lives are guided by necessity, by fate, or by predestination. Instead, it is we who need to prepare, fertilize, and till the soil of our heart, preparing it to receive this “seed” from God when it comes. We need to cultivate spiritual virtues in order to become productive earth.[4]

In so much as we are human beings like all other human beings, created in the image of God with a brain and a heart and blood which flows through our veins, we are also individual persons, unique unto ourselves, unlike the rest of humanity. And in this person that we are, we have choices to make and we presently reflect the choices we have already made. But who we can become is not set in stone but is affected by our cooperation with the grace of God that works in us. We do not have a wayside heart that cannot be changed or one of rock that cannot be broken up or one surrounded by thorns which cannot be cleared, but we need to farm the soil of our heart with the help of God.

St. Gregory Palamas says that the Sower goes out to sow, not to plow, or break up the ground or weed or smooth out the clods but to sow because it is we who have to cultivate the soil of the heart. He is the One who sows.[5]

The point is this: It is not the soil of the heart that makes the man but the man that makes the soil of the heart.

Therefore, when we hear in this passage: it is given unto you but not unto them to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, St. John Chrysostom writes that it was not given unto them because of their own choices, they are the authors of their own evils. It is not as though some were predestined to have wayside, rocky, or thorny hearts and others not, or that impersonal fate is behind the wheel of time. When we read, “Seeing, they may not see, and hearing, they may not hear” it is not as though anyone is blinded or made deaf by any other reason than themselves. It is “voluntary” and “self-chosen,” and it is not something natural to a person as though they were born this way. This is why the Lord says, they do have spiritual eyes to see (but they did not see) and spiritual ears to hear (but they did not hear) because they have blinded their eyes and stopped up their ears.[6]

But we, whose eyes are blind and whose ears are deaf, are not abandoned by God and are not hopeless. As St. Maximus the Confessor writes,

God, who is by nature good and dispassionate, loves all men equally as his handiwork. But He glorifies the virtuous man because in his will he is united to God. At the same time, in His goodness He is merciful to the sinner and by chastising him in this life brings him back to the path of virtue…He loves the virtuous man because of his nature and the probity (i.e. the uprightness) of his intention; and He loves the sinner, too, because of his nature and because in his compassion He pities him for foolishly stumbling in the dark.[7]


Jesus, at the beginning of His earthly ministry, went into the Synagogue on the Sabbath, opened up the Scriptures to the prophet Isaiah, and proclaimed:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19).

To us who struggle in sin, who are blind and deaf, with wayside hearts combined with rock and thorns, the Prophet Isaiah proclaims, “Hear, ye deaf; and look, ye blind, that ye may see” (42.18). And the Psalmist writes, “Harden not your heart” (95.8; cf. Heb. 3.8).

How can we change our heart? By repentance. Repent and you will be transformed. Continue on tending the garden of your heart to accept the Sower’s seed. As St. Isaiah the Solitary writes,

Be attentive to yourself, so that nothing destructive can separate you from the love of God. Guard your heart, and do not grow listless and say: ‘How shall I guard it, since I am a sinner?’ For when a man abandons his sins and returns to God, his repentance regenerates him and renews him entirely.[8]

St. John Chrysostom says that each of these unproductive soils relates to spiritual vices and the remedy, the means by which to make this soil healthy and nutritious is by way of a corresponding virtue. Therefore, the wayside is “carelessness” towards the spiritual life, and its remedy is “attentiveness” towards the spiritual life. The rock is “cowardice” whether it is because of the opinion of others, our families, or of death and its corresponding virtue is “fortitude” the strength of character, resilience, and bravery amidst the trials of life. The thorns are pleasure and wealth which can be disastrous to the spiritual life and can choke it with worries for the flesh. Its corresponding virtue is “voluntary poverty” which frees oneself from many of the cares of this world to focus on the spirit instead of the flesh. [9]

As we grow in the Christian life and the seeds of the Kingdom of Heaven sprout and take root, we need to be attentive to those things which aid this growth. But if we fall into sin, we have the means by which we can turn from our sin and face God – repentance – because God loves mankind and does not desire the death of the sinner but that he should turn from his ways and live.


[1] “Homily 41,” Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Luke, R. Payne Smith, trans. (USA: Studion Publishers, 1983), 177-178.
[2] “Homily Forty-seven” in The Homilies, Christopher Veniamin, trans. (Mount Thabor Publishing: Essex, 2014), 368.
[3] “Homily XLIV,” Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Schaff, Philip, ed., NPNF, First Series (Hendrickson: Peabody, 1999) 10:281ff-282f.
[4] Cf. St. Cyril of Alexandria, 178, 180.
[5] The Homilies, 371.
[6] Cf. St. John Chrysostom, 284ff, 285f.
[7] “First Century on Love” in The Philokalia. G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware. (Faber and Faber: Boston, 1981) #25; 2:55.
[8] The Philokalia, trans. G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware. (Faber and Faber: Boston, 1979) 1:26.
[9] St. John Chrysostom, 286f.

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