CLEMENT OF ROME:
Even more dramatically, recall that remarkable wonder which has been reported in eastern regions in the vicinity of Arabia, of a bird named Phoenix. This bird is said to be a unique species, living perhaps five hundred years. When the time of its dissolution and death arrives, it makes for itself a coffinlike nest of frankincense and myrrh and the other spices, into which, its time being completed, it enters and dies. But as the flesh decays, a certain worm is born, which is nourished by the juices of the dead bird and eventually grows wings. Then, when it has grown strong, it takes up that coffinlike nest containing the bones of its parent, and carrying them away, makes its way from the country of Arabia to Egypt, to the city of Heliopolis. There, in broad daylight in the sight of all, it flies to the altar of the sun and deposits them there, and then sets out on its return, which the priests who examine records think occurs at the end of the five hundredth year. With all these indications in nature, why should it surprise us that the creator of the universe might bring about the resurrection of those who have served him with holiness in the assurance of a good faith,8 seeing that he shows to us even by a bird the magnificence of his promise?1
What is the meaning of this parable? He went out to sow his seed. From where could he “go out” who is present everywhere, and fills all places? He went out, not into a place, but into a life and into a historic dispensation wherein he saved us, being brought close to us by reason of assuming our flesh. Since we could not enter in, for our sins had shut the door to us, he came out to us.… He came to till and to take care of the earth: to sow the word of compassion. For here he calls his teaching seed, the souls of men a ploughed field, and himself the sower.2
As the sower fairly and indiscriminately disperses seed broadly over all his field, so does God offer gifts to all, making no distinction between rich and poor, wise and foolish, lazy or diligent, brave or cowardly. He addresses everyone, fulfilling his part, although knowing the results beforehand.… Why then, tell me, was so much of the seed lost? Not through the sower, but through the ground that received it—meaning the soul that did not listen.… Even though more seed would be lost than survive, the disciples were not to lose heart. For it is the way of the Lord never to stop sowing the seed, even when he knows beforehand that some of it will not respond. But how can it be reasonable, one asks, to sow among the thorns, or on the rock, or alongside the road? Maybe it is not reasonable insofar as it pertains only to seeds and earth, for the bare rock is not likely to turn into tillable soil, and the roadside will remain roadside and the thorns, thorns. But in the case of free wills and their reasonable instruction, this kind of sowing is praiseworthy. For the rocky soul can in time turn into rich soil. Among souls, the wayside may come no longer to be trampled by all that pass, and may become a fertile field. The thorns may be destroyed and the seed enjoy full growth. For had this not been impossible, this sower would not have sown. And even if no change whatever occurs in the soul, this is no fault of the sower, but of those who are unwilling to be changed. He has done his part.3
And if the young shoots of the wheat wither, that is not because of the heat, for he did not say that it withered because of the heat, but “because it had no roots.” And if that which he has taught us is choked, neither is it the fault of the thorns, but of those who allow them to grow. For you can, if you will, oppose their evil growth, and make fitting use of your resources. For this reason he says not “the world,” but “the care of this world”; not “riches,” but “the deceitfulness of riches.” Let us put blame, not on created things, but on the corrupted will.4
THE SHEPHERD OF HERMAS:
The thistles are the rich, and the thorns are those obsessed with business deals. They tend not to remain long with the servants of God. They wander away, choked by commercial preoccupations. The rich cleave only with great difficulty to the servants of God, fearing lest someone might ask something of them. Such people, therefore, will enter the kingdom of God only with difficulty. You know how hard it is to walk through thistles with bare feet? Just that hard it will be for them to enter the kingdom of God.5
Sometimes it does not turn out to be an advantage for one to be healed quickly or superficially, especially if the disease by this means becomes even more shut up in the internal organs where it rages more fiercely. Therefore God, who perceives secret things and who knows all things before they come to be, in his great goodness delays the healing of such persons and defers the remedy to a later time. If I may speak paradoxically, God heals them by not healing them, lest a premature recovery of health should render them incurable. This pertains to those whom our Lord and Savior addressed as “those outside,” whose hearts and reins he searches out. Jesus covered up the deeper mysteries of the faith in veiled speech to those who were not yet ready to receive his teaching in straightforward terms. The Lord wanted to prevent the unready from being too speedily converted and only cosmetically healed. If the forgiveness of their sins were too easily obtained, they would soon fall again into the same disorder of sin which they imagined could be cured without any difficulty.6
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA:
Parables are word pictures not of visible things, but rather of things of the mind and the spirit. That which cannot be seen with the eyes of the body, a parable will reveal to the eyes of the mind, informing the subtlety of the intellect by means of things perceivable by the senses, and as it were tangible.7
While we are sleeping, the enemy is sowing weeds. This is why the Lord commanded his disciples to be always on the outlook. Those who are not actively bringing forth fruits of righteousness are quickly covered over and lost among the brambles. Yet if they exercise diligence and receive the word of God as a graft into themselves, they may again recover the pristine nature of humanity, created after the image and likeness of God.8
Let us, therefore, following the faith of the apostles, hold frequent communion with our Lord. For the world is like the sea to us, beloved, of which it is written, “There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.” We float upon this sea, like wind, with everyone directing his own course with his own free will. Under the pilotage of the Word, one may safely approach the port. But, if possessed by wayward inclinations, one is in peril by storm and may suffer shipwreck. For as in the ocean there are storms and waves, so in the world there are many afflictions and trials. The unbelieving therefore, “have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away,”18 just as the Lord said. They are not likely to endure the complications which arise from afflictions, if they are fixed upon the temporal and not confirmed in the faith.9
When the Word is choked, it is not merely due to the thorns as such, but to the negligence of those allowing them to spring up. There is a way, if there is a will, to hinder evil growth and use wealth appropriately. For this reason he warned not of “the world” but of the “care of the world”; not “riches” as such but “the deceitfulness of riches.” Let us not place the blame on what we possess, but on our own corrupt mind. For it is possible to be rich and not be deceived. It is possible to be in this world, and not be choked with its cares. For indeed riches have two contrary disadvantages; one, anxiety over them, wearing us out, and spreading darkness over us; and the other, luxury, which makes us soft.… Do not marvel at his calling our luxuries “thorns.” If you are intoxicated in your sense you may not be aware of this. One is in sound health who knows that luxury pricks sharper than any thorn. Luxury wastes the soul away even worse than anxiety. It causes more grievous pains both to body and soul. For no one is as seriously harmed by anxiety as by immoderate indulgence.… It brings on premature old age, dulls the senses, darkens our reasoning, blinds the keen-sighted mind, and makes the body flabby.10
Work diligently the soil while you may. Break up your fallow with the plough. Cast away the stones from your field, and dig out the thorns. Be unwilling to have a “hard heart,” such as makes the Word of God of no effect. Be unwilling to have a “thin layer of soil,” in which the root of divine love can find no depth in which to enter. Be unwilling to “choke the good seed” by the cares and the lusts of this life, when it is being scattered for your good. When God is the sower and we are the ground, we are called to work to be good ground.11
- 1 CLEMENT 24.1–26.1. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 48). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON TEMPERANCE. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (pp. 48–49). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF ST. MATTHEW, HOMILY 44.5.1. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 49). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON TEMPERANCE. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 49). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE SHEPHERD OF HERMAS 3.9.20. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 50). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON FIRST PRINCIPLES 3.1.7. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (pp. 51–52). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL OF LUKE 8.5.4. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 52). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- AGAINST HERESIES 5.10.1. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 53). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- LETTER 19.7, EASTER A.D. 347. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 53). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF ST. MATTHEW, HOMILY 44.7. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 54). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMONS ON NEW TESTAMENT LESSONS 73.3. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 54). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.