Friday, October 18, 2013

Hearing, Living, and Bringing Forth Fruit

'Christ the Sower', by Fr Luke Dingman

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

"He who has ears to hear, let him hear."  (LK. 8:8)

Intent on trying to practice what I preach, I spent some time this week thinking over the parable of the Sower and the Seed (LK. 8:5-15) that we all heard together at the Liturgy last Sunday.  To really "hear" what the Gospel proclaims in church is to concentrate on the words of the sacred text; to absorb what was heard as well as possible in the mind and heart; to reflect upon this "word" well beyond the limits of the Liturgy; and then, hopefully and by the grace of God, to put into practice in our own lives the living word of the Gospel. The parable of the Sower and the Seed is actually rather complicated and multi-layered in terms of its major theme(s).  I turned to a few commentaries, both from the Church Fathers and from contemporary biblical scholars for addition insight.  And here I discovered an interesting approach from a certain Klyne Snodgrass in an excellent study of the parables in a book entitled Stories With Intent - A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus. I would like to share his concluding reflections on this parable, a reflection that has a definite pastoral dimension to it.  The over-all content and concerns that Snodgrass raises - together with its particular language and vocabulary - have a clearly Evangelical tone to them, but the point is well-made about "hearing" the word and then "living" the word.  That point seems to capture the true intent of this marvelous parable.

The parable emphasizes both receptivity and bearing fruit.  Two of the three sowings that fail describe people who respond positively to the message.  They even hear the message with joy, but their hearing is still superficial.  Receiving the kingdom with joy is not enough - a message the modern church desperately needs to hear.  Faith that is temporary and unproductive is not true faith.  Most pastors would be quite happy if people received the word with joy or made claims about faith, but this parable asserts that people can receive the word with joy and still be guilty of hardness of heart.  Any hearing that does not result in productive living in relation to the Father is not valid hearing. As C. Keener observes, "The only conversions that count in the kingdom are those confirmed by a life of discipleship."  Fear that a concern for productive living leads to legalism only shows how much people have misunderstood Jesus' message.  Does initially receptive hearing that eventually fails  raise the question of eternal security?  People are overly vexed with the question of eternal security because of inadequate understanding of faith.  This parable does not address the question of eternal security; it raises the question of inadequate and unproductive hearing.  Churches should not be complicit in allowing people to think an initial response unaccompanied by productive living is saving faith. 
 ... The parable is about hearing that leads to productive living, and adapting the parable will mean enabling people to move past merely hearing words - even with joy - to hearing that captures the whole person.  People think they can look like giant oaks without putting down deep roots.  When they realize how much effort it takes to put down deep roots, they too often settle for being bramble bushes.
— Stories of Intent, p. 176

Actually, it is within the Orthodox Church, and the ongoing Tradition of the Church that reveals the same Christ, "yesterday, today and forever" (HEB. 13:8), that we have the supreme capability of putting "down deep roots."  We also learn that we need not be obsessed with the question of "eternal security."  We place our lives in the hands of a loving and forgiving God and leave judgment to His wisdom and mercy. That process, however, is far from guaranteed by mere membership. It is more about hearing the word with a good and honest heart, and bringing forth fruit with patience. (LK. 8:15)  This is what the saints have taught us through example throughout the entire history of the Church.

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