Reflection: "Seeds and Harvests"
You may have noticed that our selected readings seem to raise more questions than they answer and that can be both a blessing and a curse.
I’ve chosen to concentrate on Mark’s Gospel, but Paul’s letter to the people in Corinth also relates to our theme.
I almost want to cry out after reading today’s Gospel:
“Speak plainly, Jesus. Tell us the meaning, don’t just tell your disciples, but give us some indication of what this “Kingdom of God” is about. Don’t keep speaking in circles.”
The parables of Jesus have continued to spark imagination and controversy alike, down through the ages.
As parables, they speak around things, not directly about them, so we’re left to puzzle out the words and attempt to interpret them.
But, when we’re honest, we know that our interpretation will fall short of the truth that Jesus meant.
In the middle of a chapter of Mark’s Gospel come two parables about sowers and seeds.
The first has a more famous cousin, the story of the sower and the seeds that fall on different grounds.
At least THAT parable comes with its own explanation.
But today’s parables: the growing seed and the mustard seed, that accompanies it, are puzzling, to say the least.
Trying to figure out what each element represents is problematic for several reasons.
Firstly, it assumes that we’re able to get into the mind of Jesus, which is impossible.
We might think we know what he means, however in reality, they’ll be our thoughts, not his.
Secondly, it assumes that there were meanings to these stories in the first place.
Perhaps Jesus was painting broad brush strokes, rather than offering point by point analogies.
Thirdly, we’re conditioned, over time, by listening to people who are so certain that they know what’s going on, that their answers stick in our minds and prevent us from seeing beyond them.
The problem that Jesus has, is getting our minds to focus on what God is trying to get us to understand, when our minds are in such a completely different place.
A first century Jew might have thought that the “Kingdom of God” had to do with the establishment of God’s Messiah on the throne of Israel and with that would have come certain understanding and expectations about how that would happen.
Something along the lines of:
the Messiah will come,
gather an army,
defeat Israel’s enemies and
once again rule the Kingdom of David, from David’s city and throne (ie. Jerusalem).
Today we’re less likely to think of it in that way, and more likely to look at the coming “Kingdom of God” in an individualistic way, perhaps even as something just for us.
Our interpretation might be that God is working to prepare those of us who believe, for heaven, after we die.
Actually, either of these understandings is too small.
We know that God is certainly interested in more of the creation than just Israel, or just his believers and that God is interested in more than just our going to heaven after we die.
My understanding is that, as Christians, we ought to be seeing that what we’re doing is participating in something much greater than just a way get ourselves into heaven when we die.
That’s God’s business, not ours.
One of the things that the parables of Jesus point to, is a need for a larger vision.
They talk around the concept of God’s coming kingdom, rather than defining it precisely, so that we’re forced to expand the way we think.
Our God is infinite and creative, always doing unanticipated things, in unexpected ways.
So, Jesus is trying to open our eyes, hearts and minds to new possibilities and grander plans.
Certainly, our two parables for today should help us to understand just that.
We can anticipate what the harvest might be at the time seeds are sewn and scattered on the ground, but it won’t always work out the way we hope.
Farmers make decisions about investing large sums of money in seeds and the process of sowing their crops.
There are many factors they to take into account, not the least of which is the anticipation of whether or not there will be enough rain, and at the right time, to make the crop viable and produce a good return on their investment.
Thus, even the sower doesn’t really know how it’s going to turn out.
When the grain ripens sufficiently, it will be harvested.
Thus, we see that things happen, but we don’t always know how, or when - we simply trust that they do.
The mustard seed, the smallest of seeds, doesn’t reveal, when you look at it, the size and scope of the plant that will grow from it, yet it becomes a great bush, sheltering many of God’s creatures in, and under, its branches.
Both of these stories reveal that the Kingdom of God will come, whether or not we do any work on it, and quite outside of our anticipated outcomes, for God is at work, even when we don’t see where, or how, or why.
And the outcomes are much grander than we could ever have imagined.
Of course, we still need to work hard once we’re in God’s Kingdom, but that is a different story.
God is gracious, giving the gift of harvest and kingdom alike, and extravagant, as both come in abundance.
God looks beyond the self, providing produce for the farmer, and shade for the nesting birds.
God is connected to the creation - renewing and restoring it.
God is active and involved in the unfolding of this kingdom - even when we don’t see it or understand it.
The disciples didn’t see it or get it - as is described in Mark’s Gospel.
They remained blissfully clueless to the end, even after Jesus was raised from the dead.
They didn’t understand and were afraid for most of the time.
In the end, faithful Israel comes down to just one true believer - Jesus.
And yet from that one, following his life, death and resurrection, a movement began that has swept the world and changed it forever – based on God’s love.
So, we see that there may be more to these parables, than meets the eye.
The disciples had the advantage of Jesus being with them, yet they didn’t seem to understand.
How in the world can we hope to understand better than them?
But I don’t think that we have to be, at least not according to these parables.
God will bring his kingdom, his harvest, his mustard seed, to full growth and fruit, despite our lack of participation or understanding, despite the fact that we often don’t get it, or that when we do, we still get it wrong.
When it comes down to it, Jesus speaks in parables as an encouragement and a pacifier to us.
He tells us just enough to get us on board, to hold out a vision for a different world in which God’s kingdom or rule will indeed become the reality for all creation - even though we don’t see it at any given moment.
We participate in that vision, grow in God’s love and live God’s forgiveness for our sinful self and the sinful world.
For now we just live in it - the fullness of understanding will come later.
We want to understand, we want to know, we want to see, and yet our brains are just too small to take it all in.
For now we’ll have to simply trust that, without our knowing or understanding,
God’s kingdom is taking shape,
God’s name is being hallowed and
God’s will is being done.
We simply have to trust that what looks small and ineffective to us, will become something greater than we imagine.
And in trusting, we participate in the kingdom that is coming, and growing and becoming God’s love in the world.
I urge you to keep reading, searching, discovering what blessings God has in store for you in your life and where you can plant your seeds in people’s lives.
All for his glory…………Pastor Rick