A monk was asked, ‘What is humility?’ and he said in reply, ‘Humility is a great work, and a work of God. The way of humility is to undertake bodily labour and believe yourself a sinner and make yourself subject to all.’ Then a brother said, ‘What does it mean to be subject to all?’ The monk replied, ‘To be subject to all is not to give your attention to the sins of others but always to give your attention to your own sins and pray without ceasing to God.’
There was an old man living in the desert who served God for many years and he said, ‘Lord, let me know if I have pleased you.’ He saw an angel who said to him, ‘You have not yet become like the gardener in such and such a place.’ The old man marvelled and said, ‘I will go off to the city to see both him and what he does that surpasses all my work and the toil of these years…’
So he went to the city and asked the gardener about his way of life … When they were getting ready to eat in the evening, the old man heard people in the streets singing songs, for the cell of the gardener was in a public place. Therefore the old man said to him, ‘Brother, wanting as you do to live according to God, how do you remain in this place and not be troubled when you hear them singing these songs?’
The man said, ‘I tell you, abba, I have never been troubled or scandalized.’ When he heard this the old man said, ‘What, then, do you think in your heart when you hear these things?’ And he replied, ‘That they are going into the Kingdom.’ When he heard this, the old man marvelled and said, ‘This is the practice which surpasses my labour of all these years.’
I rather like gardening, and I would hope that you do too: there is something wonderful about taking seeds or cuttings and placing them in compost and watching them grow. It never ceases to give me a thrill, and once they’ve grown you end up with something that you can eat, smell or look at, or even sell: it is a source of joy, of nourishment of body and soul. It is an image used by the prophet Ezekiel to look forward to a future where God’s people are sheltered, it looks to a Messianic future, to one fulfilled by the church, as the Lord plants the twig on the lofty mountain of Calvary. The Cross is the tree of life, through which we have life, and all people can rest secure.
We in the West live in an age of anxiety, where we are all worried: what are we doing? Are we doing the right thing? Could we or should we do something different, something more? In the parable of the Kingdom with which this morning’s Gospel (Mk 4:26-34) starts, the one who scatters the seed does not know how things grow, and for all their sleeping and rising they cannot influence matters. The church founded by Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and entrusted to his apostles began as a small affair, a few people in a backwater of the Roman Empire, and yet has now grown to point where there are several billion Christians on earth. Here in the west the picture may currently look rather bleak, but the global picture is far more encouraging. And even if we have been going through some bad harvests, the trick is to keep scattering the seed as they will grow in a way which can defy our expectations.
We can like the Apostle Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians always be confident, we can put our trust in God, as we know that we cannot be disappointed, his victory is complete, so we please God by following his commandments: loving Him and loving our neighbour, motivated by the love of Christ, shown to us most fully when he suffers and dies for us, to heal us and restore us, to bear the burden of our sins – ‘he died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.’ We live for Christ – our thoughts, words, and actions proclaim the saving truth of God’s love for humanity. If we seek God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of others, and are forgiving ourselves then we can be built up in love. If we are devout in prayer, nourished by the word of God, and by the sacrament of his Body and Blood we are built up in love, our souls are nourished and we can grow into the full stature of Christ. So let us come to Him, and be fed by Him, healed and restored by Him, living in love and encouraging others so to do, for the glory of God and the building up of His Kingdom.