The Tilling of Us

Homily 282 – 19th Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
October 15, 2017

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

Tilling soil is a violent act. Many of you know this better than I do, from study, and from life experience.

The act of tilling plunges blades of metal into the ground, twisting them to break apart the compacted dirt. It tears at the surface, and turns the compacted dirt back into loose soil.

The gospel reading this morning deals with this subject of farming. Planting – growing – harvesting.

Now, one key to being a good farmer is to prepare the soil well. Jesus tells us the outcome for several different types of soil.

There is the seed that fell on the wayside. That it, the hard, compacted dirt path of the day, where nothing could grow. The seed would simply lay there – to be eaten by birds.

The untilled, hard soil was not much better. The seed was spared from being eaten by birds, but still was not able to receive what was necessary to grow – water and nutrients from the soil.

Then there was the seed that fell among thorns and weeds, and was choked out.

Finally, there was the seed that fell in well-tilled soil, which grew and bore fruit.

Jesus goes on to explain the parable, so I won’t go into that here. You can read the text again, and I encourage you to do so!

But what I want to focus on is the act of tilling – the act of preparation of the soul. The action by which God prepares us to receive the seeds he plants.

The key is actually found in St. Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians, which we also read. He says that the messenger of Satan – obviously this was an unpleasant thing – had been given by God to humble him.

And St. Paul goes on to quote what he was told by God – “My power is made perfect in weakness.”


Soil, compacted together, is strong – the outside of this temple is made of it. Bricks are sturdy. The Israelites in captivity in Egypt made bricks for the Egyptians.

Tilled soil, however, is weak. Very weak. So weak that even a rainfall will cause it to wash away. So weak that farmers spend lots of money to preserve it, to contain it.


St. Paul goes on to observe that it is with joy that I would rather find glory – glory – in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me.

Glory in weakness. Power in weakness. These are strange words to be used together.

But that is what we see throughout the Gospel, and throughout the scriptures. Elijah the prophet poured water three times over his offering before God consumed it with fire.

Abraham and Sarah were too old to have children. As were Elizabeth and Zechariah.

David was a small boy facing the giant Goliath.

The three disciples fell asleep in the Garden. Peter denied knowing Jesus.

Saul – the writer of that same epistle – tortured the believers and watched over the clothing of the people stoning the Deacon Stephen.

The Roman Catholics have a concept called “redemptive suffering.” I think it is redemptive farming. Redemptive tilling.

It is God, breaking us down, preparing us to receive the seed of His Word. Reminding us to let Him do the work – let Him provide the power.

It is painful. It is frequently violent. But if we continue to allow it, allow God to till the soil of our hearts and souls and minds – He will plant his seeds.

Only if we give Him our permission. We can – many do – accept the word, but then refuse to weed out the cares and concerns of the world – which choke out the fruit.

I frequently find myself in that place. I have to remind myself that whether it is economics or employment or politics – whatever the topic – it is a weed, that needs to be removed, and will, at some point, be burned.

I can either get rid of it now, or allow it to consume me and result in choking the seed of God within me, and being burned with it at the last judgement.

That is my daily struggle. I believe it to be the daily struggle of every Christian. It is the foundation of our ascetical practice – deny ourselves.

Because by allowing God to till, and to weed, and to water, we will grow.

And we will experience the fruits of the Holy Spirit, growing from within us.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.