Mark 4:26–34 NRSV
He also said, “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. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
Do you remember the last time you looked at a seed? It’s something so common we scarcely pay any attention to it at all. How could something so small hold so much potential?
When Jesus reaches for a way to teach us about the kingdom of God, he reaches for a seed. He could reach for the tree or the fruit that grows on the tree, but instead he chooses the seed to make his point.
Consider a single apple seed. This seed contains all the compounded possibilities of the entire tree. Every branch and leaf and future apple is contained in the one tiny singular seed. Residing in this one seed are all the trees that will come in the future from the seeds produced by this one seed. I once heard this African proverb, “Anyone can tell you how many seeds are in an apple, but only God knows how many apples are in a seed.”
Maybe I’m stating the obvious, and perhaps that’s the point. It’s so easy to miss the mystery because it is obscured by the ordinary. Maybe this is why Jesus is constantly calling forth eyes that see and ears that hear. The truth is shining like a candle on a lamp stand, yet somehow we can miss seeing it entirely. The kingdom is not meant to be hidden, but revealed, yet it takes a certain kind of seeing to perceive it.
What could be more humble than a tiny seed, yet what could be more grand than the tallest tree? This is what God’s kingdom is like—on earth yet from heaven. In fact, this is what Jesus is like—full of humanity and full of the Holy Spirit.
Parables cannot be pinned down, only pondered. They cannot be forced into our categories and systems. They cause us to humble ourselves before a wisdom we would not otherwise discover. A parable leads the curious seeker into the realm of divine revelation. It takes the learner out of control of the knowledge. Parables put everyone on equal footing, stripping away the prestigious academic robes of distinction, withholding understanding from the proud and revealing it to little children.
Jesus, the text says, never taught them anything without using a parable. Why is it that we so prize our systematic approaches that try to teach everything without them? Parables bring disciples into a different relationship with learning. They take away from us our penchant to master the material and lead us to the place where we are mastered by the Messiah.
A closing thought on seeds from the parables in today’s text: all we do is sow the seed. The seed does everything else. Yet if we do not sow it, it does nothing. That is a massively powerful, obvious, yet hidden truth. How do you like them apples?
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
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