Two farming metaphors
My dear people, you will remember that in the two Psalms which have just been discussed, we exhorted ourselves to bless the Lord as we chanted, “Bless the Lord, my soul” [Ps 102:1 and Ps 103:1). If in those Psalms we exhorted ourselves to bless the Lord, in this Psalm it is rightly said, “May God have mercy on us and bless us” (Ps 66:2). Let our soul bless the Lord, and may God bless us. When God blesses us, we grow, and when we bless the Lord, we grow: both are for our benefit. God is not increased by our blessing him nor diminished by our cursing him. One who curses the Lord is himself diminished; one who blesses the Lord is increased. God’s blessing us comes first and then our blessing the Lord. The first is the rain, the second is the harvest. The harvest is the return for our farmer God’s sending us rain and his cultivation of us. So let’s sing all this, not with sterile, empty voices but with true hearts.
For it’s very clear that God the Father was called a farmer. The Apostle says, “I planted; Apollo watered, but God gave the increase. Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God, who gives the increase” (1 Cor 3:6-9). In matters of this visible world, a vineyard is not a building, and a building is not a vineyard. But we are God’s vineyard because he cultivates us until the harvest; and we are God’s building because the one who cultivates us dwells in us. So what does the Apostle say? “I planted; Apollo watered, but God gave the increase. Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God, who gives the increase.” It is God, then, who gives the increase.
But are the Apostles not also farmers? Those who plant and who water are called farmers, and the Apostle says, “I planted; Apollo watered.” But we have to ask: How was he able to do that? The Apostle replies: “Not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Cor 15:10). Whichever way you turn, then, whether to the angels, you find that God is your farmer; or to the prophets, he is your farmer; or to the Apostles, recognize that God is your farmer.
Well, then, what about us? Perhaps we are that farmer’s workers, and this by strength he imparts and by grace he gives. He is the one who both cultivates and gives the increase. A human farmer cultivates a vineyard to the degree that he plows, prunes, and does the other things that are part of a farmer’s care. But he can’t rain on his vineyard. And if he does irrigate it, whose water is it? Yes, he directs it into the ditch, but it’s God who fills the spring. And then he can’t make the shoots grow, he can’t form the fruit, he can’t change the seeds; he can’t control the time of harvest. But God can do all these things, and so he is our farmer, and we can be without care.
Perhaps someone will say: “You say that God is our farmer, but I say that the Apostles are farmers.” Fine: If I say it, no one need believe it, but if Christ says it, woe to anyone who doesn’t believe it. And what did the Lord Christ say? “I am the vine, you are the branches, my Father is the farmer” (Jn 15:5, 1). Let the earth be thirsty, then, and give voice to its thirst, because it is written: “Without you my soul is like a water-less ground” (Ps 142:6). Let our earth–we ourselves–say in our desire for God’s rain: “May God have mercy on us and bless us.” (Augustine, EnPs 66, 1; PL 36-802-803)
Yesterday’s lengthy sermon left me with a debt to you in today’s, and because the Lord has willed it, the time for paying that debt has come. You must be as greedy in demanding the payment as I am in paying it. That is, you ought so to receive what God gives and we pass on (for he is the Lord, and we his servants) that what you hear bears fruit in your lives. A cultivated field that bears no fruit or ungratefully gives the farmer thorns instead of fruit will gain the fire and not the barn. Just as you see him visit this earth with the annual rains, the Lord our God deigns to visit the fields of our hearts with his Word, and he seeks fruit from our hearts because he knows what he sows there and how much rain is falling. (Augustine, EnPs 58, II, 1; PL 36, 706)