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, thought 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.
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 see you plant in the ground. Yet when planted and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that he birds of the air 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.
Mark is a curious Gospel as he seems to be in a hurry to tell the story. I see him as a little child who is not yet good at communications and begins speaking with little regard that he may run out of breath before he finishes the sentence. This is seen in the numerous comments of immediately this or that happened. In that brevity however he tells the story in a way unlike the other Gospels. The number of parables told in this book are significantly less than the other Gospels and here he seems to focus here on agricultural examples. This makes perfect sense as the hearer of his story would have no problem understanding the descriptions of the seed and subsequent growth. Further, they would have no problem with the mysteries of how all of that happen as they might also have pondered such things
In this season after Pentecost, it seems appropriate to turn the discussion to how the hearer of that day might have heard this and what does this say to us today. At no point does Jesus tell his disciples, “Dad told me to tell you…” In these parables Jesus appears to be with the disciples, looking through a window into the kingdom of God and pointing out this or that and attempting to describe what they are all seeing.
Mystery abounds in both parables but the focus in the second goes to an idea that seems to me to be uncommon in other texts. It speaks to small beginnings; perhaps even what may seem on the surface to be insignificant. Were the disciples thinking of such small beginnings for their ministries? I would suppose that they really had little idea where any of their time with Jesus might end up.
For us we are challenged by what discipleship on any given day might look like. Too often we faint away from activity as it seems much too large for our single selves to get something profound done. This mustard seed story offers a glimpse of how big things can come out of the little stuff. Recall the starfish on the beach story where when one is thrown back into the sea the beach comber is challenged to the insignificance and his reply is, “Well it mattered to that one!”
So it is with us and our day to day activities. We are exposed to so many situations in a day that we breeze by many things without even seeing the larger picture. It may be the smallest thing that perhaps even unseen when we do it, that serves a larger good for the kingdom of God.
We are not compelled to start some great foundation, or some other philanthropic endeavor, it is the small day to day things that contribute to the proclamation of the kingdom of God, here and now.
Lord God, let us be your gardeners, the planters of your seeds. Let us be able to live in this mystery and step back to see the greatness of what you might turn our efforts, no matter how small, into that which benefits all of your creation. Amen.