(for the Third Sunday After Pentecost, June 14, 2015)
He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’
He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples. (Mark 4:26-34, NRSV).
Many of Jesus’ parables consciously connected with the agricultural world he spoke into. People who understand the land.
Jesus is not, however, teaching the latest farming techniques. Both these gardening stories open with a clarifier: ‘The kingdom of God is as if…’; with ‘what can we compare the kingdom of God’. These are stories about God’s action in God’s world.
And the common theme is growth.
The first parable sees a farmer scattering seed. From there he is admittedly unaware of the mysteries taking place beneath the soil. The earth is at work. Yet despite this lack of understanding the seed-scatter is ready: at harvest his sickle is sharp. He swings and reaps. Planting. Growth. Harvest.
The farmer’s act is one of faith, hope, trust. After all, ‘he does not know how…’
The second story Jesus offers celebrates exponential growth. Thousands of mustard seeds can be held in a cupped hand.
Yet any one of these hidden in the soil grows out of proportion. It morphs from ‘smallest’ to ‘greatest’. In it nest birds who could swallow a mustard seed with ease.
Planting. Growth. Fruitfulness. Something where once there was nothing.
Both these Jesus-stories challenge me to become more of a seed-sower. They point to the power of a faith-filled word. The influence of a prayer-saturated act. They remind me that I can’t always see the result of my planting. They hint in the direction of small acts influencing beyond imagining.
They inspire me.
What, today, are you ‘able to hear’ in these memorable kingdom growth stories?