but those who pursue vain things are in need of discernment. (Prov 12:11)
WORK YOUR OWN LAND
The “land” which we are advised to work is our heart. Those who plow their heart, making it ready for the seed of the Logos and pulling the weeds of passions, will be satisfied with “bread.” Bread here can be understood in two ways.
The first is that those who prepare and cleanse their hearts will receive Christ Himself within them. We practice this every week in Orthodoxy when we read the pre-communion prayers and/or canons the night before a liturgy. For a life not focused on Christ, reading these prayers is much like sleeping during class and then cramming the night before an exam. But those who stay focused on Christ during the week will find that these prayers ready the “land” of our hearts for the grace that is about to be bestowed upon us by the Holy Mysteries. The Eucharist is one of the many ways that we can be satisfied with the one who said, “I am the bread of life.”
The second way to understand being satisfied with bread is that those who detach themselves from the ways and distractions of the world and from corrupted desires will be satisfied with simple things in life. It is not a steak or extravagant food that the wise Solomon mentions, but rather bread: which even a poor man can afford.
Those who have detached themselves from the fleeting cares of this life and cleansed their hearts will receive Christ within themselves and find joy in every part of life.
Those who pursue vain things refers to us when we chase the fleeting cares of this life. But it also warns us: don’t attempt to tend to the sins of others; your sins are already more than you can handle. To attempt to fix others is vanity and pride, because we view ourselves as at least somewhat superior. Our Lord Jesus said,
Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned. (Luke 6)
In regards to this passage, Blessed Theophylact teaches,
The Lord cuts out a most grievous sickness which is rooted in our souls: looking down on others. Consider a man who does not examine himself, but only scrutinizes his neighbor, hoping to find fault there. It is very clear that such a man is so busy looking down on others that he is oblivious of himself. Because he never sees himself as a sinner, he is quick to accuse others of sinning. Therefore if you do not want to be condemned yourself, do not condemn others.
If we do not actively work our own land, then we will most certainly fall into the trap of judging others.
SLOW BUT FRUITFUL
Let us desire to work the soil of our hearts; and not just desire, but to actually do. As the Proverb says,
Every idle man has desire,
but the hands of the courageous are diligent (13:4)
That is to say, everyone desires to be good, and most of us want to think of ourselves as good, but that is not enough. We must be courageous as well because the moment we decide to purify our hearts, every bit of evil outside of us and within us will rebel. Overcoming the passions, the habitual sins, is a slow process that takes courage and diligence. If you have begun down this road, you know that there are rarely immediate results.
You will fall. You will fail. But as my spiritual father once told me, we just need to make sure that by the end of life we have arisen one more time than we have fallen. And as Archimandrite George of the Holy Mountain teaches, as far as this life is concerned, the journey of theosis is more important than the destination. Most of us will not achieve it during this life time, but that’s ok. What is important is that we continue to say “yes” to the journey.
HOW TO WORK THE SOIL
We should do as Elder Porphyrios states: focus on Christ at all times, day and night. Dwell on His teachings, on scripture, on the lives of the saints, and on the hymns of our Church. Let our mouths be filled with the praise of our good King. Then slowly, and in a rather subtle manner, we will transform.
St Paul gives impeccable and practical wisdom in this regard as well:
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Finally brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things…and the God of peace will be with you.
May we delight in the richness of the peace of Christ within us as we pursue Him in the cleansing of our hearts.