The Parable of the Seeds

In Mark 4:26-32, Jesus tells a parable about seeds. I’ve been thinking a lot about seeds lately. Though I’ve accumulated a decent amount of experience growing flowers and herbs, and nurturing many indoor and outdoor members of the plant kingdom, this is the first year that I’ve decided to grow a small food garden. Living in a northern climate zone, I elected to start my Alpine strawberry seeds indoors, as strawberry seeds can take up to 28 days to germinate — even the average is around 14 days — and then it’s a while afterward to mature fruit. Naturally, I wanted to get a head start on their growth before transplanting the baby plants outside.

With great excitement I poured my potting mix into the container, sprinkled the tiny seeds of Fragaria vesca upon the soil, set them in a sunny window, kept them moist, and checked on them about a hundred times a day … day after day. I fooled myself on day 4 when I thought a sprout was forming. It wasn’t. As the calendar passed 14 days with no sprouts in sight, excitement gradually gave way to a creeping, burgeoning doubt.

Jesus compares the “kingdom of God” to seeds upon the ground:

The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how. The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come (Mk 4:26-29).

Jesus often speaks of the kingdom of God (alternately the kingdom of heaven) in terms that evoke a state of being or express a certain quality. He tells the people that “the kingdom of God is within you,” and “the kingdom of God is in your midst.” I’m particularly drawn to Jesus’ frequent use of parables to express the character of the kingdom of God. This parable of the seeds is one of them. He wants us to know that God’s kingdom is like a seed. Like a seed, it acts quietly, often unobtrusively, and even in fragility — but steadily. It comes to fruition over time, time that we do not control, often unfolding out of sight and through hidden workings not always completely understood.

The seed starts small, even tiny, and through some miracle of sunlight and water and nutrients of the soil and its own internal essence, it breaks through the shell that holds it and emerges as a tiny shoot. That tiny shoot, if the sunlight and the water and the nutrients of the soil are there for it to work with, grows stronger and larger and establishes a firm root. And after some time, the thing that started as a tiny seed has grown into a fruit or a vegetable or a flower or even a tree. And if the conditions are right, it will spread.

And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of 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” (Mk 4:30-32).

After 20 days had passed, excitement was long gone and despair was at the door. I had about given up any expectation that my little Fragaria vesca would sprout. Dreams of happy, thriving plants offering bright little strawberries bursting with flavor had faded. Not a single seed out of twenty-seven had come forth by day 20.

The morning of the next day, a faint hope still present in my gardener’s heart, I looked over the seeds. Still nothing. I went about my day, this time giving little thought to checking them any further as the hours went by. Evening came, and I went to the window to pull the curtain. More out of habit than anything else at that point, I leaned over to give the seeds a quick glance, expecting nothing.

And there it was. A pale, thin shoot, extending out from its protective shell, finding its way into the earth that would nourish its life. On day 21, the first seed had sprouted. It was also the first day of spring. In my delight, I let loose a scream of surprised elation.

The kingdom of God is like that.

One day after sprouting
Two days after sprouting

Copyright ©️2022 Elizabeth Keck