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.’
The people of the first country grew rice intensively, working hard to produce three and four crops from the same piece of land each year by organising irrigation systems. The second country was blessed with many rivers so was usually able to generate two crops of rice each year. In the third the people scattered the rice on the land and listened to it grow. This story of the three countries was told and retold by the colonial power of the time – the versions that the people tell may be different.
In Mark’s gospel the author marshalls words carefully, stringing pearls of parables together without much explanation. This has challenged commentators across the centuries to interpret what was meant by the original sayings of Jesus, in the gospel writer’s use of them for the early Christian audience, and for the commentator’s own time.
We cannot force seeds to grow, although we can sometimes shape conditions to encourage them. So it is with the good news of God’s kin-dom which develops of its own accord. Is it us who scatter the seed through our words and actions and attend to it with varying levels of intensity, without knowing how it develops in the lives and hearts of the people around us? Or is it the stories of Jesus’ ministry which is the seed, going underground and growing in secret?
What we know is that our mission plans and programmes, systems and strategies sometimes produce fruit. At other times it is our simple acts of neighbourliness over many years which flower in ways we had not anticipated. We are called to sow seeds and be ready to join in with God’s harvest, whenever it comes.
God of infinite patience, inspire us to carry on sowing seeds of hospitality and kindness, reassure us when the ground seems hard and stony, surprise us with harvests of goodness in unexpected places, and remind us that we are apprentices to you, the sower, grower and reaper. Amen
The Rev’d Fiona Thomas, freelance facilitator, member of Christ Church, Bellingham