The fourth chapter of Mark’s gospel could be described as The Lord’s Guide to Kingdom Farming. Jesus’ teaches with parables involving fertile soil, sunshine, the sower and of course seeds. In the first of the farmer parables, the sower willfully scatters seed in all types of soil. Some of the seed grows, some struggles against other unwanted plants and there is a portion that seems to have little chance at all. Yet the sower is always generous with the seed of God’s Word.
In the text for today, there is little doubt that the farmer takes no credit for the sprouting of the seed. Instead, the farmer sleeps and rises with the day and night, simply having faith that growth will occur. The farmer in God’s kingdom understands powers beyond his own are at work causing the seed to sprout and grow. When the time is right he takes up the sickle and reaps the harvest. This cycle is but one way of recognizing how the Holy Spirit moves throughout the world as disciples of Jesus carry out the farmer’s duty of scattering seed.
As Christians scatter the Word among the mission fields, faithful disciples resemble the farmer in the parable. In faith, the Church sleeps and rises not knowing how it is that God causes the seed to sprout and grow in the hearts of those who receive the Word. We are often surprised at how quickly some seeds sprout. Suddenly, new members enter the community of believers and take their place at the table where God continues to feed and nourish their faith. Other seeds seem to take a long time to sprout and grow; it could be that those who initially sowed the seed have moved on to new fields well before growth becomes evident.
Jesus uses this parable to teach the Church that no matter the time or place, ours is the duty to be generous in the planting of the seed of God’s Word. Our mission is to be kingdom farmers and plant seed. God causes growth; the measure of our success is in the planting. As an illustration, the second parable offered today teaches us that God causes the seed planted by God’s people to grow far beyond what we are able to comprehend.
Jesus asks, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” With such an illustration, we ought to recognize that it isn’t the size of the congregation or the number in a group that is important. It is the faith in which we sow our seed which is essential to kingdom farming.
Often, in the church that is sleeping and rising with the night and the day, small groups of believers gather to pray. Eventually, they recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit and begin to put faith into action. Soon new ideas sprout and ministries for the sake of others emerge. The mustard seed is the smallest, yet it miraculously grows and become the largest of shrubs. Likewise, we never know which of our small ideas will grow into vibrant ministries to feed and shelter those within the kingdom who have need. Again as Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”