In today’s epistle lesson from St. Paul to Titus, which is always read on the Sunday dedicated to the holy fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, St. Paul twice within the same reading encourages the Christian to practice good works. “I desire you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to apply themselves to good deeds…And let our people learn to apply themselves to good deeds, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not to be unfruitful.” Today’s sermon focuses on the work of the soul, sin and the good works upon which St. Paul insists.
The parable of today’s Gospel lesson was the sower and the seed. The faithful person heard about the seed that fell on the different types of soil: the hard trodden-down soil, the soil that was mostly rock, the soil that had many weeds and the good soil that brought forth a hundred fold. As the Lord explained the parable, the sower is God and the seed is His Word. The conditions of the soil symbolize the different states of peoples’ souls. The Lord spoke this parable to the people and His disciples to emphasize that at the core of a person’s being is his or her soul.
In studying the different conditions of the soul that were presented in today’s gospel, one becomes quickly aware of sin. The trodden path where the seed had no chance is the soul affected by hubris, faithlessness and pride. The seed amongst the cracks of the rocks expresses the sins of laziness, lack of fortitude and resolve. The seed amongst the weeds represents the sins of greed and want. The word sin, in Greek αμαρτία, means when one misses his or her mark. Transgression on the other hand, means when one goes against a commandment of God. Just as it is impossible to plant a garden and not have a weed appear so is the presence of sin in a person’s soul. It is there and it needs to be tended to.
One of the great ways to rid sin from the soul is through charity, almsgiving. St. John Chrysostom commenting on today’s epistle stated the following, “but nothing is so strong and powerful to extinguish the fire of our sins as almsgiving. It is greater than all other virtues. It places the lovers of it by the side of the King Himself, and justly.” In a society and a place of time, where gain seems to be the motivating factor behind education, business, sports and many other disciplines of today’s philosophical society, the church proclaims the opposite. In the early Christian church, the saints whose wealth was distributed to the poor through the apostles were at peace. On the other hand, some of those receiving the monetary support became anxious and argumentative. When the virtuous, young and wealthy man approached Jesus about perfection, Jesus’ response to him was, “sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor and come and follow me.” As St. John Chrysostom reiterates, “For in doing good actions, it is not those who receive the kindness that are benefited, so much as those who do it that make gain and profit, for it gives them confidence towards God.”
Today’s sermon taught that the core being of a person is his or her soul. It also compared the condition of sin, which is present in all people, to a garden that needs to be weeded. Thus, the Christian must be attentive to the weeding of sin from his or her soul. Lastly, St. Paul presented the Christian with a great medicine to heal the soul affected by sin, which is almsgiving, charity and philanthropy. Let me end with one last quote from the great saint and father of all Scriptural interpretation, St. John Chrysostom: “For almsgiving is the mother of love, of that love, which is the characteristic of Christianity, which is greater than all miracles, by which the disciples of Christ are manifested. It is the medicine of our sins, the cleansing of the filth of our souls, the ladder fixed to heaven; it binds together the body of Christ.”
By Fr. John K. Lardas