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Preparing for Sunday, June 14, 2015 | Proper 6, Year B | Sign up for Weekly Bible Study emails | The Lectionary Page | Rector's Page | Printer-friendly guides
Jesus 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.
Background and general observations
This parable of seeds and sowing is much lesser known than the parable of the sower from earlier in this chapter of Mark. That parable deals with where the seed is sown and how the type of ground (the spirit of the receiver) influences the life and harvest of the grain (fruits of the Spirit). The point of these parables is different.
In the first parable we encounter the mystery of growth and the harvest. The farmer sows his crop but he does not know how it grows, but he knows that it does. When it is ripe he harvests the crop. We hear echoes of Matthew 9:37, Luke 10:2 and John 4:35, all of which speak of a plentiful harvest.
Then Jesus tells another parable, one that is well known, the Parable of the Mustard Seed. Here the mystery of growth and harvest takes another form. Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a tiny mustard seed. The mustard seed is tiny yet yields a large bush that can shelter many birds. Here Jesus alludes to the concept of God being our protector as in Ezekiel 17:23; 31:6 (in those instances how great cedars provide protection for birds and animals of the field) and Daniel 4:12. What is different here is the tiny mustard seed growing to a great bush, instead of a mighty cedar of Lebanon. You and I think of mustard as being more of a field plant than a tree. The image below from the website of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd illustrates the tree that Jesus was referring to as one that could be inhabited by birds and animals (as opposed to the mustard plant we would see in the fields of Dijon (also pictured below)). This great tree starts out as a tiny seed and grows into something quite grand. That is the Kingdom of God Jesus tells us.
And as if to reassure us latter day readers the passage ends with the narrator telling us that Jesus always taught using parables and he had to explain what he meant to his disciples while the crowds had to figure it out for themselves.
Ideas for discussing the application of this lesson to our daily lives
1. Many of us did not grow up on farms or in rural areas. Are these parables of agricultural life hard to understand because of that? How do you try to translate the meaning of seeds and harvests, protective trees into your daily life?
Suppose you had to explain these parables to a child who grew up in the city and had no notion of farms, seeds and harvests. What might you say to them to help them comprehend these parables?
2. The Kingdom of God seems to be a mystery even to the one who plants the seeds and watches it grow. What do you wonder about when you hear Jesus speak about the Kingdom of God? What mysteries might vex you and what mysteries might be a comfort?
3. Are you OK with mystery or do you need proof of heaven to know that it is really real?
Subsequent to this passage Jesus stills a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Is that the kind of proof you would need? Or is there more you would want?
4. Parables can be difficult to understand. They seem so simple and yet Jesus seems to have a way of turning that simplicity into something more profound. His parables are not aphorisms or adages for living a good life. He does not dispense proverbs or tidbits of “wisdom.” It seems to be that the richness and unexpectedness of his parables are what make them life-giving and worth our wonder some 2,000 years after he told them.
As you ponder these parables what is it that you take away for this week or this month or this year?
What do you learn about your own faith and the faith of those around you?
What have you learned about God, how God works, and what God wants for us in God’s Kingdom?
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