Exertion and Humility

In the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, we heard the Parable of the Sower (cf. Luke 8.5-15). Additionally, since we also commemorated the Holy Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Council, we heard the Lord’s Prayer to the Father for His disciples (cf. John 17.1-13).

We’re quite familiar with the Parable of the Sower. After the multitudes gathered, the Lord begins: “A sower went out to sow his seed.” From His later explanation, we can understand this as: “The Word of God went out to sow His word,” because He tells us that “the seed is the word of God.” And who sows it? He Himself, the Word, the incarnate Son of God. So, the Lord came to teach us. What exactly? “That I created you according to My image and I desire for you to follow Me.” This is what the entire Gospel is about, preserved in the writings of the four evangelists.

“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… 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.” And after saying these things, He cried out: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

It’s good to understand that we can fall in any of the four categories. Each one of us can be the seed that falls by the road, meaning to find ourselves in contexts in which, even if the “word” comes, to not realize that we shy away from it, thus preventing us from nurturing it so that it may bear fruit. So, in the first category, the seed has nowhere to land because we aren’t even aware that we received something which we need to cultivate. This happens when we watch TV nonstop or when we become scattered in other ways, and we don’t even know that God is speaking to us. Then, the next two categories are when the seed falls on the rock and when it’s choked by thorns. In both cases, it’s lacking tilling and moisture. There are the baseline conditions for the seed to bear fruit. Each one of us can become either rocky or thorny, if we’re not careful.

So, to avoid the first category, we need to step back and allow God to speak. And then we should avoid the other two categories, the rock and the thorns. Or more precisely, we need to live such that our soil is always tilled and moist. How should we interpred “tilled”? Well, from the Patericon, we learn that: “Without bodily exertion, man cannot be saved.” May we not delude ourselves that there is a faster path to heaven. Without toil, without sweat and even without blood, there is no salvation. The path to the Kingdom of God calls for exertion. This is the only way the soil gets tilled. But it’s not enough just for the soil to be tilled, because without water, the seed still doesn’t grow. Through the lens of spiritual life, water is interpreted as humility. With these two, bodily exertion and humility, then yes, the seed grows. These two form the ideal conditions for the word of God to bear fruit in our hearts. And “in patience” it will bear a hundredfold.

So, we need to take care, because if we grow lazy or proud, then either the rock or the thorns will suffocate us. In the thorny soil, there was moisture but not exertion. Because some people are humble but lazy, and for no good. But humility is indispensible too, especially when we see how long the road is. In the Psalms, it says: “Look upon my humility and my exertion, and forgive all my sins” (Psalm 24.19). If these two are present, the word of God grows. How exactly? That we don’t know. But we need to create the conditions, exertion and humility, and then it will grow by itself. And it has an incredible vitality. We just create the conditions for our salvation, and the Lord does the rest. And He is sufficiently strong to save us (cf. Romans 14.4). Only His strength can conquer the evil in us and in the world.

In the prayer from the second Gospel reading today, for the Holy Fathers, we see how the Lord prays to the Father: “I preserved them in Your name as long as I was with them in the world, so now that I am coming to You, preserve them in Your name” (cf. John 17.11-12). On our journey along the path to salvation, we need this power of our Lord. Thus, there is no room for despair in us, because we have the All-Powerful Savior with us.

Therefore, the path toward the fruitfulness of the seed is guaranteed if we humble ourselves, if we exert ourselves, and if we believe in the All-Powerful Savior. May we make our heart into good soil and maintain it with exertion and the water of tears, may we cling with all our strength to the Lord, and He will surely save us, meaning that His seed will bear fruit in us a hundredfold.