Rev. Deacon Tom Bates
June 17, 2018
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In the Old Testament reading, we hear the Lord speaking through the prophet Ezekiel. To some scholars the tree symbolizes restored Israel and the birds symbolize the foreign nations who will enjoy its protection or its blessings. Others quote Isaiah 11, noting that God said he would plant a tender sprig, the Messiah, whose kingdom would grow and become a shelter for all who come to him. This prophecy, of course, was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, the life of Jesus is best understood in conjunction with the Old Testament and in this case the parable of mustard seed is as well.
Psalm 92 is a song for the Sabbath day and was used in Temple services. The theme is to be thankful and faithful every day and again we see references to trees. “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree; they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon.”
In the epistle reading, Paul seems to be saying that he and his followers have courage because they believe and are looking forward to being home with God.
In the Gospel reading we have two parables: Seeds Growing Spontaneously and the Mustard Seed. In Bible Study, we are studying the parables of Jesus, stories for Life in God’s World, and I thought we might talk about the seed parables today.
For our purposes, a parable is a short story that communicates an important message in an indirect way. According to our Kerygma author on Parables author, Richard Henderson, “Jesus was the master of the parable. He told these stories that are seemingly so simple, so easy to remember and true to life, and yet so full of profound meaning. Because they are easy to remember, we have in these stories some of the most authentic words of Jesus.” In Henderson’s words, “The parable is a metaphor or simile; it’s drawn from nature or common life; it’s arresting to the hearer by its vividness or strangeness; and it will leave one in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease one into active thought. Any doubts in your minds as to the precise application of the two seed parables?
The two seed parables are accounts of real, universally understood life situations that Jesus used in an attempt to explain to us what the kingdom of God is like.
Let’s consider first the parable of the growing seed that we find exclusively in the Gospel of Mark. According to Henderson, its meaning has been debated for centuries and several interpretations have been suggested:
For some the reign of God is like the seed in the story; it’s a principle or idea at work in society, or in an individual’s life, which grows and develops until the entire body is changed. On a societal level, this interpretation would suggest a principle so basic to a society’s life that it would alter what is valued and how people acted. On a personal level it would mean a divine principle within a person’s spirit that develops until it transforms the person’s life. I got a similar interpretation from me Study Bible notes. According to the note, the seeds are like spiritual growth, a gradual process that is finally consummated in spiritual maturity. We can understand the process of spiritual growth by comparing it to the slow, but certain growth of a plant. Father Paul and Tom Hester both suggested this idea as a possible interpretation, but they are not the only ones. In this interpretation, Christ is seen as the one who sows the seed.
“Another interpretation says the reign of God is like this process of growing. The power of God at work in the world causes God’s will to grow gradually. That was certainly my first thought, however, James A. Brooks in his commentary on the Gospel of Mark warns the “The idea of a gradual but inevitable coming of the kingdom of God is not taught by this parable or any other but is a later idea.” That’s it. He offers no further explanation.
“Other interpreters center on the harvest element of the parable. Here the kingdom of God is like the harvesting of the grain when it is ripe. God’s final intervention is coming soon, and Jesus will be the one to do the harvesting. The emphasis is on the end of times. This interpretation of the parable includes a call for change, a dramatic turning to God while there is still time.
. A final understanding of this parable combines the harvest element with an emphasis on the mysterious growth of the plant. It suggests that the ways of God are beyond our understanding, and at the same time God’s reign is something in which we participate. As the farmer doesn’t understand the growth of the plant, so we don’t know how the reign of God grows. Yet the farmer must be actively involved not only with the harvest, but with helping the plant grow – fertilizing and weeding, for example – so we are called to join in God’s rule and must act decisively when the time is right.”
Some of these ideas came up as we discussed this parable in class, but I’ve used Richard Henderson’s words to give you a more complete understanding of the various interpretations. We, the Bible Class, did note the mystery of the seed that grows by itself, and when the grain is ripe, the farmer who planted the seed has to act if he is going to reap the benefits of its growth. If you had thoughts as to the meaning, please join our Bible Study Group. We teach one another and you would be a valuable addition.
I think that all these interpretations are valid. I think the spontaneously growing seed could be an idea of principle that works in society or a person until the entire body is changed. I think the kingdom is God is a gradual growing process that we see in progress today. I think that kingdom of God can be compared to individual spiritual growth. Although I do not think the parables says it. I do not disagree that the parable could be seen as a call for change, a dramatic turning to God while there’s still time. Nor do I disagree that we have a role in working for the growing kingdom of God by water and fertilizing the seeds of growth. I especially appreciate the mystery of growth.
As regards the similitude of the mustard seed, Henderson writes: “The growth of God’s rule is compared to the tremendous growth of that minute seed in a large shrub, a scrub big enough that birds take cover in its shade.” In the Study Bible, it’s Christianity that had its small beginning and would grow into a worldwide community of believers.
Have these parables been helpful to you in your understanding of the kingdom of God?
When my grandson graduated from high school, he didn’t know whether he wanted to go to college or not and whether he was ready for college or not so my daughter sent him to a Christian leadership Academy in Hot Springs AK. At his graduation, one the speakers preached on the parable of the mustard seed and gave each of graduates a mustard seed from Israel to remind them that no matter how small, they can join with others and accomplish great things for God. My grandson has not accomplished great things yet, but we have hope. Amen.