Mark 4: 26 – 34 The parable of the growing seed & The parable of the mustard seed
The parable of the growing seed
He also said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces corn – first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. As soon as the corn is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.’
The parable of the mustard seed
Again he said, ‘What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.’
With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
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When we sit down to consider the parable of the growing seed, we must remember that our perspective in the 21st century is different from a hearer at the time of Jesus. Our farmers constantly intervene to improve both the yield and the quality of the grain they produce. We use chemicals to control weeds; we use chemicals to control pests; we add fertiliser to improve yields.
Things were very different in 1st century Palestine. There were no weedkillers, no chemicals to kill pests. If there was any irrigation, it was by means of terracing and rain capture, requiring minimal intervention. They didn’t even try to remove weeds manually, because it was too easy to confuse young cereal plants with weeds. The farmer literally planted the seed, left it and harvested the crop when it was ripe.
And Jesus says that this can give a clue as to the kingdom of God.
One view of the parable may be that we have just two responsibilities in bringing about the kingdom of God; we must tell people about Jesus (sow the seed), and we must be ready to welcome people into the church when they come to faith in Jesus (harvest the crop). Everything else can, indeed must, be left up to God.
As regards sowing the seed, I am not very good at telling people about Jesus. In the light of this parable, that is a serious failing on my part. Without the seed being sown, there will be no harvest. With little seed sown, the harvest will be meagre. Lord Jesus, please help me to do better at telling others about you.
What about the harvest? Those who respond to Jesus have to be brought into a living relationship with him; they need to receive the Holy Spirit. From the earliest days this has been the responsibility of the community of believers. Does my church welcome newcomers? Do we welcome everybody, regardless of colour, race, sexuality, or any of the many ways in which human beings are diverse? Do we run events for new Christians? Do we support the weak? These are all part of bringing in God’s harvest.
It sounds like a busy programme, doesn’t it? And yet, we have the easy bit. The mysterious action of grace does the hard part of changing people’s hearts, whether the farmer “sleeps or gets up”. But we still have to sow the seed and bring in the harvest!
The parable of the mustard seed seems more straightforward. Jesus is the mustard seed. The planting of the seed symbolises his death. His resurrection is the germination of the seed, which then grows into a large shrub. The shrub represents the kingdom of God.
A point to remember, though, is that Jesus’ audience would have known nothing of his death and resurrection, for the excellent reason that they hadn’t happened yet. How would an early 1st century Jew have understood this parable?
The kingdom of God was not unexpected in 1st century Palestine. John the Baptist preached repentance and baptism, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:2) We know that some of Jesus’ disciples came to him from John, and it’s reasonable to suppose that many of those who came to hear Jesus were aware of John’s preaching. Perhaps the message that they would have taken from the parable of the mustard seed is that they were seeing the start of the growth of the kingdom of God? Perhaps it was opening the minds of the listeners to the idea that Jesus might be the Messiah?
Please help me to be better at telling those around me about Jesus. Please help me to express how I feel about him, and how much he loves me.
In Jesus’ name, Amen