Jesus taught the crowds using parables. In our parables today, we see that Jesus used everyday agricultural language to talk about God. In the first parable, he speaks of someone scattering seeds and watching them begin to grow. If you have ever planted a vegetable garden, you know how amazing it is to watch how the seeds come up, begin to grow, and eventually produce a harvest. We don’t know exactly why it grows or how it grows, but somehow the earth produces the harvest, and we are able to reap what was sown.
In the second parable, Jesus speaks of a mustard seed. It is the smallest of all seeds on earth, and so some might expect that the harvest from the smallest seed would be very small as well. However, Jesus says that from the smallest seed, the mustard bush becomes one of the greatest of all shrubs. It puts forth large branches and all of the birds of the air make nests from its shade.
Verse 33 tells us that Jesus spoke the word to them using many similar parables, and that he shared “as much as they could understand.” But then, don’t you wish you could have been one of the disciples for the private times when Mark says Jesus “explained everything” (v. 34) to them? Wouldn’t we all love to get that commentary? If we could have access to the private explanations Jesus gave to the disciples, surely there would be less confusion and more understanding. If we could just have a private tutoring session with Jesus, wouldn’t we understand God’s hopes and dreams for us just a little better?
Since we don’t have access to the private meetings where Jesus “explained everything,” we simply do our best with the help of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost suggests to us that the Holy Spirit is present and active in our world. God does not abandon God’s people, and the Holy Spirit is always available to us. The Holy Spirit gives us power to do ministry in Jesus’ name and to speak the truth about God’s love. In these two seed parables, we learn about that which seems to have been the most important topic for Jesus, the kingdom of God.
First we learn that there is mystery to the kingdom. Some of us do not like mystery in our lives. We want order and structure, and we want to be in control. However, we are reminded that God is sovereign and works in God’s own way and timing. While we may see in other teachings that God desires for humanity to join in God’s efforts, this particular parable suggests that even if humanity is oblivious to what’s going on around them, God is still at work. This is good news!
A second thing we can learn about the kingdom of God is that God’s workings may appear to be small and insignificant, but like a mustard seed, the kingdom will grow in significant ways. When we sing Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” we affirm that the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom will reign supreme, and we will experience life as God intends.
When I came to be a pastor in Seneca, S. C., I was quickly invited to a meeting to talk about a possible homeless shelter for the county. I found out that there had been talks about a shelter for years, but most of the talks had died down and nothing had been done. As a good friend of mine once told me, “Sometimes when all is said and done, more is said than done.” The need, however, was still there.
At first, only a few people met to talk about the need, but as the months went on, we eventually had eight churches gathered in the effort. After creating a board and getting 401C3 status, more and more people began to join us. City government, police, lawyers, doctors, churches, businesses, and other individuals began to catch hold of the need and possibility. In 2009, Our Daily Rest opened its doors and has had a significant impact in many people’s lives. I see this as one example of how kingdom work can start small but can grow to wonderful proportions. As the birds of the air perch in the big branches of a mustard tree, so now many homeless people are finding shelter in our county.
Finally, we also learn that Jesus doesn’t force feed us. Instead, he gives us as much as we can understand at this point in our lives. That is good news for humans, who are not perfect and who often are slow to understand. God gives us just what we need for each day and situation. Though we may not get the full picture or the deepest understandings that day, we catch glimpses of God’s kingdom and that is enough. The Israelites had to learn that lesson over and over as they wandered in the wilderness. God will provide for our daily needs. We just have to trust and be open to receiving that blessing. Here in Seneca, the impact is already showing evidence of God’s handiwork. On the surface, people at the shelter are discovering a God who provides food, clothing, and shelter. Internally, they may also see that God grants us things beyond our physical needs—like grace, comfort, and peace. How thankful we are for a God who provides just what we need through kingdom seeds!