‘And the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how’
Two Seed Parables
We began our study of the parables with the Parable of the Sower because it clearly sets out why Jesus spoke in parables and the result. In short, it is a parable about understanding parables. The seed is the word of God as taught to the crowds by the sea. All receive the word, as all the hearers are challenged by the parable’s hidden meaning. Those who are open not only to hearing, but spiritual perceiving, will be transformed, as the seed in the good soil produces fruit.
In the same chapter of his Gospel, Mark reports two other ‘seed’ parables spoken by Jesus at the same time: the parables of the Seed Growing Secretly, and the Mustard Seed. Like the tale of the sower, both deal with the hiddenness of the Kingdom of God.
Let’s begin with this question: When is the Kingdom of God to be realized? In one sense, it is a future hope. ‘Thy Kingdom come,’ is the plea of the Lord’s prayer. Yet Jesus has ushered in the Kingdom already, bringing it into effective operation through His ministry.
‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near…’ (Mk. 1:17)
However, although inaugurated, the Kingdom is not yet fully realized. Indeed, the critics of Jesus might claim that His ministry does not seem significant enough to mark it as the glorious kingdom of Israel’s expectation. Our two parables address this issue.
The parable of the Seed Growing Secretly teaches us that there is an organic quality to the Kingdom of God. A gardener plants her seed, but then nature takes its course. We have to use time-lapse photography to see the growth of seeds into blossoming plants because the naked eye under normal circumstances simply cannot discern its flowering. In a similar way, God moves as an invisible cause so that the Kingdom manifests itself in ways we know not. Eventually the harvest does come, a potent symbol of the last days. But for now, there is this exhortation from James, the brother of the Lord.
Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth…You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand (James 5:7-8)
The parable of the Mustard Seed is one of the most beloved and often quoted of all. Its meaning is crystal clear. Small beginnings can produce grand endings. The bush that grows from the tiny mustard seed even provides a home for the birds of the air, a powerful image of that way that Jesus provides comfort and rest for all the peoples of the world, Jew and Gentile alike.