1 Samuel 14:34-16:13. Psalm 20. 2 Cor 5:6-10 (11-13) 14-17 Mark 4:26-34
‘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.’ (Mark 4:27).
Some time ago in a prep/grade 1 class I taught, we chose to follow the growth of seeds in clear plastic cups. It was fun for the kids to daily delight in watching their seeds sprout and begin to grow. Once they had developed into seedlings, they were able to take them home. Seeds still largely remain a mystery even to science. Scientists explain that seeds contain the genetic material to grow a particular plant. They understand some interesting facts about seeds. For example, seeds know how to orient the first sprouting toward the ground, that seeds will send roots down into the earth to anchor the plants and that plants need sunlight, water and good soil to for a seed to germinate. But the mystery is still there.
Chapter 4 of Mark contains not one parable concerning seeds but three! Our gospel reading today contains two of them but follows on from the first Parable of the Sower. What we discover is that the kingdom of God is bound in mystery. The seed planted into the ground, the word of God, planted into our hearts, sprouts and grows, and as the parable states, the farmer, ‘does not know how’.
What is interesting here is that the word used in the Greek to describe the growth of the seed is αυτοματος, or automatic. Seeds grow automatically. Seed crops the world over are testament to this miracle.
But the seed here is representative of the Kingdom of God which also has a mysterious quality to it in Mark. Just as the seed once planted is a mystery being revealed, so too the Kingdom of God. Jesus was instructing the disciples about the work of the Kingdom of God and that it’s growth is not according to our timetable but according to God’s and that for us is unknowable. The work of the kingdom is to plant the seeds of God’s word into the hearts of others. It is God who waters and produces ‘a harvest’ in the lives of people around us.
Our Gospel reading hasn’t quite finished yet. The next parable concerns the parable of the mustard seed in verses 30 -32. This is quite a puzzling parable for a number of reasons. The mustard seed is not the smallest seed and not the tallest tree by a long shot. But this is not quite what Jesus was getting at. The mustard seed is indeed small and does grow into a bush or shrub and does indeed provide shelter to birds. Comparing the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed and bush is a reminder of the kind of Kingdom Jesus was building. He deliberately did not compare the kingdom of God to a Cedar of Lebanon, tall trees with vast trunks and a sprawling canopy. They could be described as stately. By comparison the mustard bush is a humble plant, it is short, scruffy and small, but in Mark it is also a sanctified image of a sprawling and sufficient plant for shade, much like the Kingdom of God. It is sufficient for each one of us.
What we discover in the parable of seeds is hope. Hope in the Kingdom of God, in the automatic nature of growth. None of us will truly know the impact we have had on the lives of others for God, for the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ. By living out our lives as followers of Jesus, being an example in word, deed and action to those around us, sharing God’s love, compassion and hope. Many would want the kingdom of God to grow quickly or into a large edifice. However this does not seem to be the way of Jesus in these parables. Seeds, like the word of God, springs up in God’s timing. Have you noticed when you plant seeds, they don’t spring up the same moment, do they? No. We wait patiently to see what when they will spring forth out of the ground. Conversely, we pray for our friends and family, sowing where we can, a word here, a kind act there, and patiently await God’s timing.
The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans in chapter 11 verse 33. ‘O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how unscrutable his ways? ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?’ In our 21st century context of all things being at our fingertips, we want things to happen quickly, immediately but God’s ways are not our ways. In Mark’s gospel, the parables concerning seed growth teach us something of the mystery of the Kingdom of God. It grows according to God’s timeline Our job is to be faithful to God all the days of our lives. To be faithful to one another, loving those around us, helping one another, sharing the blessing of God on our lives.
I cannot fathom the work of God in my life, when I look back at the moments when God clearly directed my path. The seeds of God’s word were planted early, watered by others, and faith grew. There were patches of doubt, patches of strong growth too. There have been people at the right time, in the right place to guide and nurture along the way. I wonder when you look back. Where have the seeds of the kingdom of God been growing in your life? Who were the people who shared God’s word with you, who encouraged your faith in God, who walked alongside you? Today we give thanks for the the word of God, planted in our lives. We pray for those around us, our friends, our neighbours, our families who do not yet know the joy of following Jesus.