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

The Deep Soil (Matthew 13:1-23)

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Before arriving at the famous Parable of the Sower — the Gospel reading for today — we are first given Isaiah 55:10-11 to contemplate. Though Isaiah’s words were written approximately 500 years before Jesus spoke the Parable of the Sower, his parable calls to mind Isaiah’s prophecy so beautifully that it isn’t hard to imagine he might have deliberately intended it that way. Isaiah writes:

Thus says the LORD: Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.

My word shall not return to me void, says the Lord through Isaiah. And so Jesus begins to tell the crowds what “the kingdom of God is like…” It turns out that the nature of this kingdom is best revealed through parables, and in one of them, a sower goes out to sow seeds. Do we see them? Do we notice them? 

Jesus tells the people that the kingdom of God is like these small seeds. He tells them that some of the seed fell on the byway, and the birds naturally came and ate it. Some of the seed fell upon the rocks and sprouted immediately in the shallow soil there; but because the soil there was shallow, the sprout had no depth of root, and so it withered when the heat of the sun came. Some of the seed fell among the thorns and brambles, and these choked it after it sprouted and had grown a little bit. 

But some of the seed fell into deep, rich soil. And it formed deep, strong roots in that good, deep soil. And maybe it grew a little bit slower than the seed that had sprouted in the shallow soil. Maybe it was more deliberate and unhurried about it all, taking its time to grow toward the light. But even as it took its time, it grew steadily, quietly, and became strong. It belonged in the light, but it had to form strong roots in that fertile soil. 

So it became too firmly established for the birds to want to eat it, and it had deep enough roots to withstand the strong heat, nourished by water and nutrients from the cool and stable earth that is the ground of its being. Too firmly anchored in the soil and too strong to be choked off by any thorns, it grew as its Creator intended it. And this seed, Jesus tells the crowd, reaches maturity and bears its good fruit a hundred or sixty or thirty fold. My word shall not return to me void, says the Lord. 

Copyright © 2017 Elizabeth Keck