The Parable of the Growing Seed Mark 4 v26 – 34
So here we are in Mark chapter 4, towards the end with Jesus speaking in parables to those who are following him. This is only one of the ways that he used to teach, at the end of the chapter directly after this section Jesus calms the storm perhaps displaying God’s desire to bring peace.
But here we are with a finely crafted short work of fiction. These are stories, not the same as a direct message so they don’t easily fall into categories that you can either agree or disagree with, something you either like or dislike. If we don’t like the message, we will usually react and argue without actually hearing and thinking about what is being said.
So, Jesus using parables, draws us in, takes us deeper engaging our imaginations asking us to interpret instead of argue. We are invited to give it a second thought, then to ask questions and stay curious. You may then find something more than agreement or disagreement – namely meaning.
Like those who came to listen to Jesus I suspect like them, most of us here have heard stories or sermons on “the kingdom of God is like or the kingdom of heaven is like” and we know that he did not mean a place where righteous people go when they die or that it meant the perfect new world that God will create after destroying this hopeless mess.
Our story is that the kingdom is at hand and within reach now, we know that it is upside down not based on top-down power, not about maintaining order and control by way of reward or punishment. By being crucified Jesus demonstrated that God’s kingdom wins through gracious self-giving, that it is though weakness rather than conquest and it is more about reconciliation rather than humiliation. It triumphs through a willingness to suffer rather than a readiness to inflict suffering.
So, it is different from the world’s powers – upside down and that is what we follow and believe in. This is what we desire, a spark of something pure, something good, something holy an aliveness which shows us a glimpse of God’s kingdom.
So, what is it in these few short verses these very short parables that is asking us to use our imaginations, what is it we are trying to interpret in particular?
We can probably all see the surface meaning of the story: in this case the secret growth of the seed or the small seed produces a big bush. But can we interpret the layers underneath? Is it the same for those first hearers as it is for us?
The first parable; so simple and seems quite innocuous. The seed grows secretly, doing its own thing unobserved in the earth and eventually there appear the stalk, the ear of corn, and the swelling corn inside the ear. Then of course the harvest. Seems straightforward enough.
The hearers at the time would have understood the dangerous undertone at the end, when talking about the harvest. They would have known their scriptures and recognised a quotation from Joel (3 v 13) about the sickle going in at harvest which is all about the coming of the day of the Lord and judgement on the nations round about; the restoration of the fortunes of Israel. Jesus is telling them that God’s promised moment is coming. But it is not going to be what they expect.
Perhaps another layer underneath is the apparently innocent description of how the seed starts to germinate and grow. The seed going into the soil sleeping in the soil and then getting up. A reflection of the rhythm of God’s present creation, the cycles of night and day, the seasons a time for planting and a time for harvest. But what has that got to do with the kingdom of God? Is it that Jesus would go into the earth and then arise – is it similar to the words used for resurrection not so much about individuals but they would again have understood this as being to do with the restoration of Israel. Again, not the sort of kingdom of God movement people were expecting.
Both the parables are also stories warning against looking down on the small beginnings in Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and of the great work that God was to do. When two or three gather to meet and pray often it is the start of a new initiative that God has in mind. The second parable perhaps adds that Jesus is saying don’t worry but remember who your God is and what he has promised – that the kingdom will eventually offer shade to the whole world.
When I was preparing there were a couple of things in the parables that made me curious and want to dig deeper. The first being how little dependence there was on the man in the story; just the scattering of the seed (which he has been given) and the putting in of the sickle when it had ripened. Second, whatever the man does it grows and he doesn’t know how.
Is this where the link with our other reading comes in? (2 Corinthians 5 v7) “We live by faith, not by sight”. How hard it is trusting things that you cannot see and fully understand as you live day by day.
In our current society have we lost this connection, this dependence, this trust in God and his creation. Do we still marvel at what God has created? Or are we so insulated now because we think everything can be made? Is that where our security is? Is that what drives our activity? Is it that we think everything can be made – then everything needs to be taken in hand and we then get on the merry go round and if we don’t keep going everything will stop without us and – because of this we are so tremendously important? So, we can never let anything out of our hands to be entrusted to others. So, we hold on and endlessly wear ourselves out. We worry and stress about what will happen next.
We have forgotten how to rely on God “look at the birds of the air/see how the lilies of the field grow” (Matthew 6 v26ff)
I have colleagues at work who strive to be in control of everything and suffer greatly with stress because they are not, or can ever be. Others are so worried that if they make a mistake, they will be thought less of and they may lose their job. No matter what is said or what support is given it is so difficult if not impossible to shake them from this mind set. Some of these people have worked for the company for nearly 30 years and are highly thought of. I too fall into this way of thinking an acting.
The job becomes the source of security and take that away nothing remains.
Now let’s not be mistaken we have a role to play and will be accountable for what we do and how we are but God is the initiator, the prime mover. We have to pay attention and join in exercising our gifts; scattering the seed we have been given but we need to keep a sense of right perspective.
Anthony De Mello in his booklet the way to love makes the following suggestions about dealing with insecurity which is what my colleagues and I are experiencing
“If you wish to deal with your feelings of insecurity there are four facts you must study well and understand.
First it is futile to ease your insecurity feelings by trying to change things outside of you. Your efforts may be successful though mostly they are not. They may bring some relief, but the relief will be short lived. So, it is not worth the energy and time you spend.
Second, this fact will lead you to tackle the problem where it really is, inside your head. Think of people who in exactly the same condition that you find yourself in now would not feel the slightest insecurity. There are such people. Therefore, the problem lies not with reality outside of you but with you, in your programming.
Third, you must understand that this programming of yours was picked up from insecure people who, when you were very young and impressionable taught you by their behaviour and their panic reactions that every time the outside world did not conform to a certain pattern, you must create an emotional turmoil within yourself called insecurity.
Fourth, whenever you are insecure about what may happen in the future, just remember this; in the past six months or a year you were so insecure about events which when they finally came you were able to handle somehow. This was thanks to the energy and the resources that that particular moment gave you, and not to all the previous worrying which only made you suffer needlessly and weakened you emotionally. So, say to yourself: if there is anything I can do about the future right now I shall do it. Then I’m going to just leave it alone, settle down to enjoy the present moment, because all the experience of my life has shown me that I can cope with things when they are present, not before they occur.”
So be like the birds of the air; the lilies of the field live for the present. Each day has it troubles but set your mind on God’s kingdom before everything else and the rest will come to you.
We can help God bring about his kingdom by paying attention and watching it grow and acting at the right time. We have our part to play by how we act and what we do. The Kingdom was Jesus’ passion but he went about spreading a culture of hope and compassion among ordinary people breaking down prejudice and social barriers so we should be no different.
So, don’t do things to please others but be true to your deepest and best instincts. Act compassionately to others, cultivate an openness of heart, understand where people are and share what they are feeling. Seek to promote justice and peace, we are God’s eyes and ears arms and legs. Overcome evil with good with acts of love, peace, forgiveness and humility.
This so far has been individually focussed but there is a community element which links in with Claires vision and with what sort of church we want to be in place. How will we be known what descriptors best represent how we as a community are seeking to help bring in God’s kingdom in this area.
But the kingdom of God is much bigger than we can comprehend, bigger than we can see, something beyond us and our understanding so I want to finish with some words from Margaret Silf taken from her book Roots and Wings. Perhaps something more to pique our curiosity and make you wonder.
- In the beginning was a seed, the size of a grain of salt. The seed was packed with potential.
- The seed held the power to bring forth, to create, it held the power of life itself.
- And the seed released its power in a big bang, giving birth to time and space.
- And the power flowed forth, and flows still, fifteen billion years later. And the power was, is and always will be about life.
- The seed contained everything that would bring forth. Life in all its fullness.
- And the secret of the seed revealed themselves, through the silent reaches of the unfolding aeons,
- Seeding the stars and the galaxies, shaping and sifting, gathering and dispersing
- Energising space with the forces that both hold us together and urge us to grow, each in the direction of our true nature.
Richard Harwood 13.6.21