Gospel parables, an Orthodox commentary

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The seed that grows secretly


Christ continues to explain the Kingdom of God on earth, the Church, the society of believers who do His will-in the parable of the seed that grows unseen. The Evangelist Mark has preserved this parable for us:

"So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come" (Mark 4:26-29).

According to Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), the man who cast the seed into the earth, is not God, as in the preceding two parables, but is each man who plants good seed (Christian teaching and piety) in his heart and public life. According to Blessed Theophilact of Bulgaria, the man of the parable is God Himself, Who became a man for the sake of our salvation, like us in everything but sin. Both interpretations are acceptable and edifying.

Whoever sows the seed-the preacher of the Gospel - casts seeds of faith into the souls of men. He cannot wait there to observe how these seeds grow into ears of grain, for gathering into the Kingdom of Heaven. The man who sows has few free moments. His special anxiety about the soil is wasteful and redundant. This parable is how the Lord assures the anxious to stay calm.

According to the word of Saint John Chrysostom, "The success of the preaching depended not on the apostles, but on the grace that preceded them. Although it was their affair to go and preach, yet the persuasion God Himself carried out, working in the apostles. So also the Apostle Luke said, that "their heart the Lord opened" (Acts 16:14).

As a seed grows into a plant by stages , so also a baptized man accepts the teaching of Christ and gradually undergoes transfiguration within, helped by God's grace. At the beginning of his journey, a man has good impulses that promise spiritual fruits, but which are unripe like shoots of young plants. The Lord does not control man's will. He grants enough time to mature and gain strength in virtue. "The seed grows as if without His (God's) knowledge," explains Blessed Theophilact, "because we are free, and for this seed to grow or not to grow depends on our will. We do not bear fruit against our will, but willingly, that is, we bear fruit from ourselves. At first, when we are babes, not yet having attained to the measure of the stature of Christ, we sprout a bit of 'green', we show the beginning of good; later, the 'ear.' when we are already in a condition to withstand temptations as well, for the ear already stands upright and has attained much development. And then the 'full corn' in the ear is formed - this occurs when someone bears the fruit of perfection." In other words, only the spiritually mature man is capable of offering to God the perfect fruit of his good works. When God sees a man who has become spiritually well formed, then He takes him from this life unto Himself, which the parable calls "harvest."

The teachings of Christ, with God's invisible help, give fruit in time and bring benefit. The grace of God acts on the soul gradually. "Divine grace, which in one instant can purify a man and make him perfect," writes Venerable Macarius the Egyptian, "begins to visit the soul gradually in order to test the human will." The Lord, confirming virtue in the heart of the believing man, is like the sun and rain, which raise up the wheat growing in the field, disclosing to the laborers the grace-filled fruits as an abundant harvest." To the ancient world, the germination of a seed into a whole plant was inexplicable. In the same way, the religious conversion of a man's soul is inexplicable, but done by the power of God. Religious conversion is the theme of the parable.

Lord Jesus Christ's preaching and parables distinguish between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven. The first kingdom - of God-is the Church that Lord Jesus founded on the earth, made up of those who believe in Him and do His will. The second kingdom - of Heaven-will number all the righteous people after the Last Judgment of all the human race. The first Kingdom of God-the Church-has two parts. This kingdom has the Church Militant, on its mission of seeking salvation while in the world and in time and struggling for eternity. It also has the beginnings of the Church Triumphant: the righteous people who are waiting. The Kingdom of God as the Church Militant prepares men for the Church Triumphant it will share with Kingdom of Heaven.

The Church began with the coming of Christ, Who cast into the hearts of men the Word of God, just as the sower casts seed into the ground. This Kingdom will end when the time of harvest comes, when all mankind on earth becomes one society of believers, one flock of the One Pastor, when all mankind come to one field, in which good seed is sown. Then will come the blessed life in the Kingdom of Heaven for the Church Triumphant.

Jesus Christ will participate in this Kingdom in its founding and in His sending the Heavenly Powers, the angels, to harvest the ripened fruit. Christ's leadership is a Christian article of faith now, but 2000 years ago His listeners on the shore of the Sea of Galilee lacked faith and could not understand many concepts such as the Kingdom of Heaven. These listeners needed such parables as the sower and the wheat and tares.

The enlivening energy in the seed meant that "the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear." And if neither thorns, nor tares choke it, then it will itself grow up and give fruit. According to the word of Venerable Macarius the Egyptian: "It is incumbent on one who expects to receive from God the seed of grace, first of to all cleanse the earth of the heart, in order that the seed of the Spirit that falls on it would bear perfect and abundant fruits."

Christians retain the grace of God by their own efforts. On this topic, Saint John Chrysostom writes: "When is grace with us? When we do not offend this benefaction, do not despise this gift. Who then in offending this grace can preserve it and not be deprived of it? God has granted thee absolution of sins, how then can a good mood or action of the Spirit abide with thee, if thou dost not retain it by good deeds? The cause of all good things lies in the grace of the Spirit always abiding with us. It leads us to every good thing, and when it leaves us, we remain abandoned and we perish. Let us not leave it! It depends on us whether it remains with us or not. It remains when we take care for the heavenly; it leaves when we are immersed in the worldly."

Divine Grace is not impersonal magic. Without our human efforts, God grants no grace to us at all. The Fathers of the Church write that "God created man without his [man's] participation, but He cannot save him without his [own human] participation." In other words, God created man, and "gave him freedom to choose between good and evil." The Lord does not restrict the freedom of man although he wants every man to choose salvation.

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