Today’s reading is Mark 4:26-29:
Jesus 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 grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
It’s no secret that the parable is one of Jesus’ favorite teaching methods. It is essentially the biblical equivalent of a Twitter post: simple, concise, catchy, and aimed at a widespread audience. Jesus even has literal followers—billions of them, across two millennia—which means his parables would surely be the most retweeted in history. This makes Ellen’s Oscar selfie look like child’s play.
The parables are featured heavily throughout the four gospels, relating fundamental Christian lessons in terms of pearls, coins, sheep, and prodigal sons. Perhaps the most commonly recurring theme, however, is the seed, as seen in today’s reading, the parable of the growing seed. We see this analogy echoed in the parable of the mustard seed (Mk 4:30-34; Mt 13:31-35), the parable of the weeds (Mt 13: 4-30), and also in the parable of the sower (Mk 4:1-20—featured in the March 1st post in this series). The fact that Jesus reiterates this comparison so many times is a red flag. It tells us that he finds something very special in the relationship between plant cultivation and the proliferation of God’s kingdom.
The premise of the parable is rather clear, and in fact, it is described explicitly in a passage in Luke’s gospel: quite simply, “the seed is the word of God” (Lk 8:11). There is a strong foundation for this parallel. The seed, though lifeless itself, holds everything that is needed to create life; under the right conditions, all the genetic material inside will produce a plant. Likewise, the word of God, when planted in the hearts of men, is a source of spiritual growth. Like the seed, it contains within it the potential for growth, but it cannot bear fruit until it is sown. Those who are blind to God are like the barren soil, waiting in desolation until the season for planting arrives. We, the sowers, are the preachers of the gospel, called to spread His seeds over the earth. And indeed, they are His seeds, not ours. No farmer could possibly create the seed himself; he simply “scatters” it upon the ground. Likewise, our divine Creator alone has the power to produce the seed of eternal life. In turn, He bestows His precious seed upon us, His faithful servants, entrusting the future of His kingdom into our humble hands.
The parable of the growing seed addresses a question of agency: what can the sower do to ensure that the seeds he has planted come to fruition? Naturally, he wishes the best for his crop, and were it in his power, he would turn every seed into a healthy and fruitful plant. But the parable makes clear that at this point, the sower’s work is done, and whatever comes next is out of his hands. Once he has scattered the seed, the sower goes about his normal routine, waking and sleeping, working and resting, watching as the seed “sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” To the sower, the seed appears to be doing its work “all by itself,” but of course the human soul can really only grow under God’s guidance.
The point of this parable is to emphasize that the spiritual journey of each individual relies upon God for direction. Each journey is personal and profound, solely between the individual and his Maker. Just as the seed sprouts and grows without any intervention from man, and as man cannot understand how it grows, we cannot understand how God works in others. We are called to exercise blind faith in this regard. Because God has trusted us with His precious seed, and because we offer ourselves completely to His service, we must likewise trust God to cultivate the seed and bring it to eternal life. This is not to say that we should not do everything in our power to nurture the seed. As members of God’s communion on Earth, we must help each other grow in faith, like good stewards watering the seeds of faith and keeping the weeds of temptation at bay.
Over time, the grain grows from the stalk, to the head, to the kernel. At last, when “the grain is ripe,” the sower harvests it with his sickle, enfolding into the church a new member in the body of Christ. What was once a lifeless seed has been transformed through the divine works of God into the radiant fruit of His vine. And all we did was scatter some seed! If we ever need to be reminded of just how awesome God is, surely this story will serve to humble our hearts to Him.
It is easy to see now why Jesus was so fond of the seed analogy. The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians, offers a beautiful expression of the lesson presented in this parable: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). What more promising encouragement could there be for us to put all our faith in God? We may be His hands and feet, traversing the Earth to do His work and sow His seeds, but ultimately, He alone is the source of eternal life, fueling our hearts and our bodies to do work in His name. It is our task as His faithful followers to “retweet” His good news, not just in our words, but in our actions.
Elena Breer ’18 lives in Stoughton Hall, is considering concentrating in English or Psychology, and is a staff writer for the Ichthus.