They didn't know we were seeds
Based on Mark 4:26-34
My memories of my first year or two at school are pretty fleeting, but one thing I do remember is being asked to bring seeds to school so could plant them and watch them grow. We planted them in little pots and drew little pictures of what we were growing and attached them to sticks that we stuck into the pots. And we spent the next weeks admiring the progress of our seedlings.
It was so long ago that I don’t remember for certain what kind of seeds I planted. I seem to recall they might have been some kind of green bean, so I would have presumably drawn some beans. Others brought seeds of other vegetables like carrots, so they would have planted them and drawn them. But one boy in my class brought something completely different. Bird seed. And he drew a picture of a bird and stuck it into his pot, hoping that was what would sprout.
Many years later, I read that hemp seed used to be a
common component of bird seed. So ever since then I have wondered, what
exactly were we growing in Primer One at Central School all those years ago
Today’s gospel reading comprises three distinct sections: two short parables and a brief commentary about Jesus’ use of them. Both parables are about seeds growing into plants. I haven’t counted them all, but I believe I can safely say Jesus told more parables about seeds than anything else.
The first parable we heard today, the ‘Parable of the Growing Seed’, which is only found in the Gospel According to St Mark, is one of a group of parables that are concerned with growth. Typically, they commence with words like “‘The kingdom of God is…” or “‘The kingdom of heaven is…”, (depending upon which gospel you are reading), followed by a growth related metaphor, which usually involves a seed or seeds.
There are various interpretations that can be drawn from this parable. A popular one is that anticipates the spread of the Christian religion from its humble beginnings. But I say it goes much beyond that and is about the coming of the kingdom, which is the realisation of God’s reign of justice and peace.
Whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer, like we will be doing together shortly, we pray for the coming of the kingdom, on earth as in heaven. This will happen. Slowly, but surely. The seeds will bear fruit, but they will need time. They will mature in God’s time, not ours.
But this parable ends on a dangerous note, when Jesus echoes the words of the prophet Joel, who had written, “Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.”1 Jesus is almost certainly alluding to the Day of the Lord, which is described throughout the Older Testament as being the day God would intervene in the affairs of the world. But after this, God would restore the fortunes of God’s people and impose judgment on those who had opposed them. This would be immediately obvious to most of those who are listening.
The second parable, the ‘Parable of the Mustard Seed’, which is found in the Gospels according to St Matthew, St Mark, and St Luke, follows a similar pattern of germination and growth, but this time the smallest of seeds grows into the largest of shrubs, showing just how much can come of so little. While growth takes time, it can be difficult to stop once it gets going.
I can remember being amazed as a child the first time I saw kikuyu grass growing through a road. It may be taking a while, but the kingdom is slowly but surely coming into being. History was changed forever by the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ two thousand years ago, but when we consider the state of the world today, it is clear that the God’s involvement with us is not yet over.
Which brings me to the third part of our reading, which says Jesus only teaches using parables, but explains everything in private to his friends. And I would suggest the real reason why Jesus’ parables are not understood by many people is not because Jesus is withholding the true meaning from the people. It was because they are withholding it from themselves. They are not open to him, so they are not open to the truth. Well not yet anyway.
So where does all this leave us? If we are authentic followers of Jesus the Christ, it is our job to playing our part in working towards the coming of the kingdom. Which, again, I say is the to the realisation of God’s reign of justice and peace. And it is not an easy job.
The original Jesus movement was radical and
counter-cultural. It threatened the religious and political powers that be
of the day. It proposed the preposterous idea that loving and caring for
others should take priority over wealth and power. And not only did it
accept and include those that the rest of society rejected, it often
demonstrated them to be more worthy than those who rejected them. No wonder
the authorities had Jesus killed.
And if we are to be his authentic followers, we need to be as radical and counter cultural as he was and prioritise the values of the kingdom over those of the world.
Some time over the last year I read the slogan, “They tried to bury us. They didn't know we were seeds.” That really impressed me. and I looked for its original source. And it turned out to be an adaptation of a couplet by the Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos, which would be translated as something like, “What didn’t you do to bury me / but you forgot I was a seed.”
This slogan suddenly came to mind while I was thinking about the two parables we heard today. And it suddenly struck me that Christianopoulos was right. We are seeds. Each of us is planted to help grow the kingdom, and while it will take time, if we love God, which we do by loving and caring others created in God’s image, if we stand up against injustice and oppression whenever we encounter it, and if we care for God’s creation, then we will play our part in bringing about God’s reign of justice and peace. It will take time and there will be dangers and challenges along the way; as being a follower of Jesus is radical and counter-cultural, the journey can and will be bumpy at times. But we will get there.
So next time you are trying to do your bit to make this world a better place, and you feel rejected or discouraged or despondent, just remember that slogan. “They tried to bury us. They didn't know we were seeds.”
13 June 2021
1 Joel 3:13
All Bible references are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) unless stated otherwise.