According to its kind

As with all parables, there is so much to the parable of the sower that a lifetime will not yield all the fruit from it.

But it strikes me that most often the fruit is said to be faith. Interestingly our Lord tells us what the seed is – the word of God. He tells us what the path is – those who hear but do not receive. The rocks are those who hear and receive, but only when things are going well. And the thorns are those who also hear and receive, but quickly become choked out because of this world’s allurements and troubles. And finally, the good soil are those who hear and receive and hold it fast in an honest and good heart. They bear fruit with patience.

But what’s the fruit? The other soils are unable to produce fruit, as Matthew and Mark record the parable. But the good soil produces fruit thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold. So what’s the fruit? Is it faith? Is it good works? Perhaps it is neither.

And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind.” (Gen. 1:11). The seed bears fruit according to its kind. The seed that is sown is the word of God, the gospel. The fruit that it produces is the word of God, the gospel. The good soil has faith, and so clings to the gospel that is sown. And from it comes – to mix metaphors – streams of living waters. From it comes the gospel, the word of life.

But this is not an abstract word, or even a compilation of words to form a sentence. This word is the eternal word of the Father, come down from heaven to save sinners from sin and from death. This word is the word of God who came born of the Blessed Virgin, making His and His Father’s home with you. The word is Himself the sower and the seed. And He produces the fruit that leads to eternal life.

You are the ground. The Son of Man has sown His seed and planted it in your ear and in your heart. Sometimes you are the path and Satan and his demons snatch the word away so that you remain comfortless and barren. Sometimes you are the rocky soil and the word takes root, but only on the surface so that the hardships that come prevent you from hearing with ears to hear. Sometimes you are the thorny soil. You hear the word of God, the gospel of our Lord Jesus, but the temptations and allurements of this world and your own flesh prove too much, and you choke out the gospel in order to satisfy your flesh.

And sometimes you are the good soil, when you have been tilled by the Law and the once hard path has been made soft. and the once rocky heart has been cleared of stones, and the once weed-infested will has been tilled and churned. And the word of the Lord is planted in your ear and in your heart and you receive Him with great joy, holding fast to Him because He is the word of promise; He is the word of life and salvation.

The seed that was sown becomes a mighty tree whose branches provide safety and whose shade provides comfort and rest. And according to its kind the fruit of the tree is the word of the Lord. And from this tree, the tree of life, you eat and are satisfied. You eat the flesh of the fruit and drink its nectar and you become a living being.

On Baptism

It seems nearly self evident that we would consider and treat the doctrine of holy baptism on the Festival of the Baptism of Our Lord. And it seems that whenever baptism is mentioned, someone wonders aloud or to themselves whether or not this churchly and ancient ritual is necessary unto salvation. Must we be baptized to be saved? To understand rightly and to grasp the significance of baptism, we must go to the Old Testament. Specifically we must consider three accounts: the Creation, the Flood, and the Exodus. These three accounts tell us much about baptism and what it is.

In Creation we hear that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Two things are present before the creative words, “Let there be light”: darkness and waters. It’s not that these existed without God’s will, but that from these, out of darkness and from the waters, God created all things. The darkness is there as a void and the waters are there without form. From the darkness God said, “Let there be light,” and out of the waters God created an expanse called dry land.

So in baptism, in the new creation. The light shines in the darkness of sin and death; the light that is the life of all men full of grace and truth: Jesus. And out of the waters the Lord creates a new land, a land of immortality and life given to those whom He chooses, the true Promise Land, the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land.

Creation is a foreshadow of the new creation, the better creation, created by the Word of the Lord from darkness and the waters. In baptism all waters have found their true purpose, to bring forth the new creation of God. So when you see the ocean or the lake, or the water in your drinking glass, it is not simply water, it is the means by which God creates and re-creates. All waters are blessed by being filled with the word of the Lord and by His Spirit. True holy water is not blessed by a priest or pastor, true holy water is water that is used for the true purposes of water: to give birth to the land that is called holy, the Church of God.

So now we move from Creation to the Flood. In the 600th year of Noah, God sent a flood upon the whole earth to destroy man. That was the purpose of the flood, to wipe man off the face of the earth. Man was corrupt and vile, so God said to Noah, “I will send a flood upon the earth to destroy man with the earth” (Gen. 6:9-13). Yet God did not completely destroy mankind. A remnant was saved: Noah and his family, eight souls in all. This was not to prove God a liar – that all men were not destroyed in the flood – but to foreshadow that by a man who survives death, mankind would be redeemed and saved. Noah prefigures Christ who came through death.

So Man was destroyed by the Flood, yet man survived the Flood. St. Peter teaches us that baptism corresponds to this Flood. As it cleansed the conscience of mankind, leaving only righteous Noah and his family, so baptism now cleanses the consciences of all, leaving only the Righteous One and His family. Once again water finds its true purpose in bringing forth the righteous family of God, which are His saints.

Finally we must visit the Exodus, when Israel came out of Egypt and passed through the Red Sea on dry ground, being set free from Pharaoh and his army. With each successive account baptism comes ever closer into focus. Creation tells us that God will form His land out of water, with His Spirit hovering over. The Flood tells us that though man be destroyed and killed because of his sins and wickedness, yet he will live in the Righteous One. And the Exodus teaches us that the people of God will come through the waters that kill the hard-hearted, freeing His people from the slavery of sin and unbelief. But even more, we know from St. Matthew that the Lord Jesus came out of Egypt with Mary and Joseph in order to fulfill what was written, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Jesus is Israel. He comes from the land of slavery through the Red Sea. But He does not stop there. He goes on through the wilderness and to the Jordan where Israel went from being nomads and tempted in the desert, to a nation with it’s own land, the Promised Land. They went from being not a people to becoming the people of God with whom God dwelt and made His home.

So Jesus is baptized at Bethany beyond the Jordan. He is baptized on the wilderness side of the Jordan so that in Him Israel re-enters the land. Not the land of Judea, but the land of the eternal dwelling where God dwells and makes His home. Everyone who enters here through His waters dwells with God and God with Him. Through the waters the Lord makes those who were not a people into His people and makes His home with them.

Jesus is the fulfillment of all Scripture. This doesn’t mean He simply or merely satisfies prophesies. It means He fulfills Creation, the Flood, and the Exodus, and everything in between. He is baptized to fulfill all righteousness, meaning that He is the sinner who dies in the flood; He is the hard-hearted that is drowned; and He is the Righteous Man by whom mankind is saved. So when He comes up out of the water the Spirit of God that hovers over the face of the deep lights upon Him and remains on Him who is the Man anointed by God to do the works of God; witnessed to by Pontius Pilate, “Behold the Man!”

Baptism then, is not a dead ritual or some rite of passage. Neither is it our commitment to God, as neither Creation, the Flood, or the Exodus were dead rituals or rites of passage or man’s commitment to God. Rather in Creation, in the Flood, and in the Exodus, the living God is committed to man and brings him through from darkness to light and from death to life. In baptism you are joined to Christ’s baptism; to His death and resurrection which is the baptism with which He is baptized. You are made new, re-created in the image of the Man of heaven, the everlasting man, the Righteous One.

By being baptized as a sinner, our Lord Jesus took on your sins, joined Himself to you that you might also come through the waters safely, following the Ark of the Covenant, which is Christ Himself, through the waters and into the Promise Land. And just as before when righteous Noah came through the flood and was given wine to drink and make the heart glad, as Israel came through the Jordan and planted vineyards and drank from its vines, so the Righteous One who came through the flood of death gives you His wine to drink to make glad the hearts of men.

It is necessary that the Christ be baptized, in order to fulfill all righteousness. So then it is necessary that we be baptized into Christ who is our Righteous One. Yet it is not the water that makes the baptism, but the word of the Lord. It was He who created through water in the beginning, and who saved man from the Flood, and who led His people through the Jordan on dry ground. And it is He who saves and makes alive in the fonts of the Church. It is He who saves you by His baptism, which is yours.

…with Mary, His Mother

When the Magi of the east came to the house where the Christ-child was, they saw the child with Mary, His mother, Surely Mary is there because she is the child’s mother. She is His life-giver. She clothes and feeds Him and watches over Him, just as your mother did for you and just as you do for your little ones. Mary is there because it’s her house, her home, and she has the child that the Magi of the East seek. But all that could be inferred. She didn’t have to be mentioned. Just like it could be inferred that Joseph was not there because he was working (he hadn’t died yet since they had not yet taken their flight into Egypt). Or maybe he was there just not mentioned. He doesn’t have to be mentioned to know that at some level he was involved. After all, he was the reason the child and His mother were in Bethlehem in the first place. But Mary is mentioned. The Holy Spirit wants her in the story. He doesn’t name the child, but He names Mary, His mother. There is more here than simply mentioning Mary because she is the child’s mother. (Matthew 2:11). Why does the Holy Spirit tell us that Mary was there? It could be because Jesus was a child, no more than two years of age. It could be to tell those first century readers to ask Mary about this, that she will collaborate Matthew’s witness. But why not just say that they saw Jesus who was with Mary, His mother, putting the emphasis on Jesus? The way it’s worded shares the emphases: “When they entered the house they saw the child with Mary, His mother.” His name is not even mentioned. Her’s is.

Mary is mentioned because she teaches us. She teaches us that when you find Jesus you find those who believe on Him. Mary embodies the faithful. She is the first to believe that her Son, the child of her womb, would save His people from their sins. She is the first to treasure up in her heart all that is said of her child, her firstborn. She is the model of faith, proclaiming that whatever the Lord wills is good for her even when it is unbelievable and will cause her trouble and hardships. She worships her child while He is still in her womb, praising Him for choosing her and for raising her up from humility to honor, from being lowly to being exalted. Praising Him that because of Him all nations call her blessed even as through her all nations are blessed, just as it was for her father, Abraham.

When you find the Christ, you find those who worship Him already. That is why Mary is mentioned. She teaches the Magi of the East how to worship the child of prophesy. She told them of the miraculous conception. She told them of the angel Gabriel. She told them about the shepherds and the angels and that her child was born in a stable meant for animals; that He was laid in a manger, a feeding trough for beasts. She told the Magi who this child is: Emmanuel, God with us. That He is meant for the rising and falling of many in Israel; that He is the light to the Gentiles, a revelation to the nations; that He is the Savior of the nations, the Son that is given. Mary treasured all these things in her heart, storing them up so that she could tell the Magi who this child really is and why He has come and what He will do and so teach them how to worship Him, the one born King of the Jews.

Mary is all those who have come before you and who have taught you how to worship Christ the Lord. How have they taught you? By telling you of His birth; by recounting all that is said of Him in the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms; by bringing you to Bethlehem, the House of Bread, to His house, so that you would give the treasures of your body and your will, giving them as tribute to the King of kings. You have been taught how to worship Him by those who were here before you, who treasured up in their hearts everything that has been said of the Son of Mary, pondering the mystery of God in flesh, Emmanuel.

And you fall down before Him and worship Him. You worship Him when you rejoice in what you are told, as the shepherds rejoiced and as the Magi of the East rejoiced. You worship Him when you confess the creed, proclaiming the truth of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. You worship Him when you honor Him with your lips and when you ponder Him in your heart. You worship Him when you say “Amen” to His body and blood, eating the Bread of Heaven in the House of Bread and drinking the cup of the Lord in the courts of His house. You worship Him when you come into His house and find Him wrapped in the swaddling clothes called the Bible, and laid in the manger called the altar.

You come and open your treasure and present to Him gifts. Not gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and not your time, talents, and treasures. Those are not your gifts to the King. Those are your gifts to your neighbor. No, the gift you give to your King is your body and will, your heart and soul. With the faithful you present yourself to Him as a tribute, that He is the King and you are the servant. And then He gives you His heart and soul, His body and His will. And you go out from His house different than when you came in. You came in by way of Herod; by way of death and threats and betrayal, the way of this world. But you do not go the way you came in. You go out the way of life, a different way than you came in by. You go out proclaiming what you have seen and heard, and you teach others how to worship the King in the House of Bread with Mary, His mother, and all the saints of God.