It seems basic information that when we plant a seed, we know only that it grows. We might even be able to explain what happens to cause growth. But here Jesus’ point is sound: First the grain and then the ear then the full grain in the ear. The transformation remains a mystery. But our farmer does know when the corn is ripe and knows what do to when it is time.
This parable is paired in today’s reading with another parable, that of the mustard seed. Mustard is fast-growing, easily spreading, and invasive. I might, instead of using “mustard,” say “kudzu.” That we can understand.
Part of the challenge that entices preachers with this week’s Gospel reading is that it is, in fact, two parables — one after the other. We have no way of knowing whether, in teaching, Jesus put them together like that; we know only that these are two of fifteen times in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus describes the Kingdom of Heaven. And we’re told that Jesus spoke to his listeners only in parables, which they struggled to understand – but then afterward, to his students, maybe over supper around the fire, he untangled them.
Maybe our goal here today is not to wrestle these stories into images that make sense to us. Maybe what we can do is accept the mystery, know that we don’t know, and see what we, ourselves, can see. From where we sit. With who we are. How do these stories speak to us?
When Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is like a farmer scattering seeds upon the field, my first thought is: What a waste of seeds. Right? That’s not how you or I would plant. We would say, Look: prepare the ground first, then carefully set out the seeds or the seedling plants, hovering over them like an anxious parent until they take root.
But not our farmer, not the way Jesus tells it. Just take seeds by the handful and fling them onto the ground, and pray.
So that tells me, and that tells you, something crucial about the Kingdom of God. This is clearly a God of extravagant abundance. This is a God who couldn’t care less about the price of seed corn (it’s currently about $300 a bag) and instead sends handfuls of the stuff flying toward the ground. Some of it might root and grow. Great! Some of it might fall on rocky ground or get eaten by birds. Whatever. The God who created us, the God who sent Jesus to us, this is a God who doesn’t know what “moderation” means. A hundred eighty gallons of water turned to wine at the tail end of a wedding celebration. Thousands of people getting all the bread and fish they want with twelve baskets full left over. Flinging expensive seed all over the place and trusting that whatever happens is what needs to happen. So for me and for you this is very good news. The Kingdom of God is wide open. In the Kingdom of God, anything can happen, and usually does.
What else? About that mustard. I have checked with Midwestern colleagues who assure me that for “mustard,” we can read “kudzu.” So when Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to mustard, his listeners were likely amused. “Whaddya mean, ‘the greatest of all plants’? Hey, Jesus. You want to come help clear this ‘great plant’ from my back forty?”
That tells us something else, like maybe why we have two parables linked in today’s Gospel reading. The Kingdom of God is not only extravagant, like a God who pours out endless abundance on his beloved children; the Kingdom of God is invasive – and disruptive. The Kingdom of God sneaks in when we’re not looking and next time we turn around it’s all over the place. Like kudzu. I don’t know anyone who says, “Yeah, I thought I’d lay down a nice little bit of kudzu for ground cover in that corner.” Instead we curse and rip it back. Or like ivy, pretty as it is. Every spring, Mark has to clear ivy from the trunk of a tree in our back yard so that it doesn’t strangle the tree and kill it, thus making the tree fall, either into our neighbor’s backyard or onto the roof of our house.
But any vigilant farmer or homeowner will keep a close eye out for these invasive plants and respond whenever we see them.
When we put together these two ideas – light begins to dawn. The Kingdom of God is extravagant and abundant, and the Kingdom of God is invasive and disruptive, so we’d better keep an eye out for it, because once it takes hold, watch out.
In that case, the invitation for you and for me becomes this: We can see signs of the Kingdom anywhere we look. Every encounter, every moment of every day, is a potential Kingdom moment. It’s there. It’s going to be there. It’s what happens when we do as the movie Prince of Egypt advises and “look at our life through Heaven’s eyes.”
And the second invitation is like it: Be on the alert – because when we’re attentive to the presence of God, anything can happen. And usually does. Amen.