Why do the Gospels rely on seed parables to explain what the kingdom is? There’s today’s parable; there’s the mustard seed parable; and the parable of the seed that grows at night. Both can be read in Mark 4:26-33.
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.”
He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a 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.”
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it.
Why did Jesus use seed parables? Many reasons, obviously. It was an agrarian society. Today Jesus might use the imagery of a YouTube that goes viral or an email that you send out and which is forwarded to others and to others…. But the primary message of the seed is that the kingdom of God is hidden but will eventually flower forth into life and eternal glory.
But Jesus goes way beyond the agrarian context in which he spoke. Because he had the kingdom in his mind, not relevance to farmers. Quite frankly, any farmers listening to the parable of the Sower and the Seed would have laughed – I’m speculating here, since I’m not a farmer. Perhaps this is the reason why he said those shocking words: “for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”
So a farmer might have mocked: Really Jesus? Who would throw seed along the path? Actually the Greek says, παρὰ τὴν ὁδὸν, next to the path, which would have been the unplowed ground, so seed thrown there would be easily trampled and easily found by birds. But when Jesus goes on to interpret the parable, ὁδός takes on a new meaning: the path of salvation, the way of Jesus and discipleship! So those who are παρὰ τὴν ὁδὸν are not rooted, they are not on the path to salvation and are easily turned away from salvation.
The farmer will laugh again: Really Jesus? Throw seed on rocks and thorns? Who would do that? Such waste. No, only good soil should receive seed! That’s the logic of farming, of course. But Jesus is looking at a very different logic. He is using the language of farmers in order to be understood. And yet, he is not understood, because he is not teaching in an agricultural school. He is teaching in the school of life.
God is not solely interested in those who are receptive to the good news of Jesus Christ. No. God shows his love and grace on everyone. But many will not accept or recognise the love and grace and goodness of the Lord because they are easily distracted and care more for material goods. Those who preach a God who selects who will be saved and who will not should seriously look at this parable. God does not select. We select! We decide whether God’s grace will work in our lives. Protestant preachers keep harping the same message: It’s all grace. Yes, it is all grace, all a gift from God; but we decide whether to accept the gift. And not only accept the gift, but produce fruit. Seed that falls on good soil will not be devoured by birds or wither or be choked by thorns – but it will produce fruit, otherwise it’s useless.
The kingdom of God is quiet. The kingdom of God has nothing to do with noise and slogans and big numbers and budgets and Supreme Court victories or any of the things that Christians have been proud of since the days of Constantine 1,700 years ago. The kingdom of God has nothing to do with what Kierkegaard called Christendom. The kingdom of God finds good soil and there produces fruit. The kingdom of God finds good hearts and minds that are open to awe and wonder at God’s infinite goodness; and there, the kingdom produces the signals, the secret code that can only be perceived by those who have ears to hear and hearts to rejoice. This is the message of today’s parable. Jesus spoke with a contemporary voice for his time. He is still very contemporary – with or without our language.