11 Sunday B - KOG Tiny Seeds

Michel DeVerteuil
Lectio Divina with the Sunday Gospels

Textual Comments
We see Jesus in this passage searching for the right metaphors to illustrate the concept of the kingdom of God, and we are reminded that today we need to find new images to illustrate our own vision of God’s kingdom.
Verses 26b to 30. A farmer has sown a tiny seed; he now watches and waits for it to bear fruit. Jesus makes a comparison between the small and negligible start and the extraordinary results. The farmer is in no hurry, he simply waits and lets things happen. Whatever happens will take its own time and he must certainly not try to hurry it. He does not try to find out how this happens, but allows things to develop as they will. When the time is ripe the farmer knows that he must get to work. Stay with the slow movement, the first signs of the crop before it is harvest time. Experience the contrast in the last verse when the time comes and everything seems so easy and natural.

We think of parents who worked hard for their children and then one day they saw that it was time to move on and let them go. We remember leaders who gave their all to their jobs and then one day knew that the time had come to let others take over. We think of church pastors who gave themselves to their work and must now allow others to take their place.
Verses 30 to 32.
good deeds1In this parable Jesus makes a distinction between the small beginning and the final flowering. “At the time of the sowing it is the smallest of all the shrubs of the earth.” We remember small acts that we know about and that have led to great results. Acts of love and kindness and loyalty that were done without thinking about what would happen in later years. Looking back, we now see that a great tree grew out of it with plenty of space for people from other classes and tribes to benefit from it. We think also of the many cultures that have found their home in the Bible.
mustard bushIn your meditation you can start from the time of sowing the little seed, a time of enormous potential; or you can start from the time of full growth and remember the small beginnings.
Verses 33 and 34.
You might ask yourself why a great teacher would decide not to speak except in parables.

Prayer Reflection

Lord we thank you for the times that a bible passage touched us deeply.
When we first read it we knew it was a beautiful word;
so we just received it like a seed sown on the land.
Then we carried on with our daily lives
knowing that somehow the words of the passage were there within us
be stillweaving in and out of our experience.
Gradually we began to catch glimpses of its meaning.
Then, quite unexpectedly, it all came together
and we knew that the passage was ours
and all we had to do was enjoy it and give you thanks.
Lord, in our modern world there are many things we can do
Just by pressing a button or turning a switch;
Eventually we come to think we can move people like that too.
Remind us that helping other to grow is something totally different.
It is rather like throwing a seed on the land;
Night and day we sleep, we are awake,
The seed is sprouting and growing, how we do not know.
We see some results and we think that the crop is ready
But we have to wait a little longer.
Only when the harvest has come can we start to reap.
Lord, we pray for those who work the land,
that they may reverence it and trust its rhythms
remembering that the land has many secrets they do not know,
that it must do things of its own accord,
and only when the crop is ready must they start to reap.
Walking with JesusLord, it is not easy to keep the vision of Jesus alive in the world today.
The things we preach may sometimes seem irrelevant or trivial:
love your enemies, put the poor first in your calculations,
practice modesty. Jesus is always there with us
Yet we know that we must keep preaching these things
because if that tiny seed continues to be sown
one day it will become the biggest shrub in the whole world,
it will put out big branches and the birds of all the air
will shelter in its shade.
Lord, our leaders like to stand over us and hand down instructions.
But you are not like that.
You speak your word in parables, in bible passages,
In things that happen to us, in people.
We cannot get ot the bottom of them,
But you give us time
Because you only teach as far as we are capable of understanding.
You open the door of faith gently for us
Then when the time comes we understand the parable so clearly,
With so much joy
It is as if you had taken us aside as your own special pupils
And explained everything to us.
Lord, help us to relate to other as you relate to us.
Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration (An Alternative Approach)
Every Sunday we introduce the celebration by saying how people are welcome to the Lord’s banquet, made one in Christ, made brothers and sisters in baptism, and members of the church and of the family of God. This is all true as a set of abstract statements about what we believe about ourselves. However, that is not how it feels and in every celebration the first interaction is at the level of feeling: if we do not feel welcome, then no matter what happens, we feel rejected and that sense of rejection is a fact of human living. If we are to talk about banquets and welcome, then perhaps the first thing is for people to welcome one another, shake hands, and introduce themselves.
This notion of introducing oneself is so important psychologically that at meetings where everyone really already knows one another, it is often a good thing to go around and for each to give her/ his name, say a word of self-introduction, and tell others why they are there. The Eucharist is intended to be intimate in two ways: first, it is a meal of sisters and brothers with the Lord (and family meals are, by definition, intimate); and second, it is to be the centre of our religious lives for the week, and anything that is at the centre of our spirituality is also, by definition, intimate.
So rather than give an introduction, say something like this:
We are gathered here at the Lord’s banquet as his sisters and brothers, so it is appropriate that we should introduce ourselves to each other. Let’s do that now.
Homily Notes
helping others11. ‘Think global, act local’ is the wise motto of the ecological movement: have the big picture, but actually make a difference, no matter how small, in the right direction. However, the approach is one that is far older than the ecological movement: it is the basic notion we find in Jesus’s teaching about the kingdom. And we see it laid out in today’s gospel: the kingdom is not like the spread of a great empire, it is like tiny seeds scattered here and there. Where does one find it: in vast systems and worldwide schemes? No, rather it is discovered in little things. It is more like a tiny plant than some mighty building. But if it is given time, then the kingdom grows and spreads.
helping others32. But ‘thinking global, acting local’ is far harder to put into effect than we like to think. It always seems easier to lay the blame far away in some vast system and it seems very easy to decry our little efforts — in recycling for instance — as not really making a difference. In the same way, thinking in terms of God’s vast plan but then loving one’s neighbour is far harder than it appears. One can give up because the plan does appears to be off-track, or because the little acts of forgiveness and love seem to make no difference to the world. Indeed, there is always a body of people who see such little actions as really no more than a delusion to distract us from ‘real’ action.
3. In the face of these difficulties and objections, we have to remind ourselves of three aspects of the activity of building the kingdom.
First, the building of the kingdom is nothing less than bringing God’s love closer to creation. It is not the equivalent of recruiting converts or seeking out adherents to our way of doing things. The kingdom happens when it happens: whenever someone looks at the world afresh, has new joy, rejoices in beauty, or is encouraged to seek the good. This intimate scale of the kingdom is proportionate to the scale of the deeds we are called to perform every day. If we cannot communicate love in little things, then we will not succeed in bigger things.
Second, each of us is called to carry out the activities of building the kingdom as part of a community, this community, this church. We are not just a bundle of individuals who happen to share a view of the universe; we are one people bonded together as the body of Christ. We engage in all these little things knowing that all of those we can call brothers and sisters can work in the same way, we can encourage one another, support one another, and comfort one another along an often arduous path.
Third, we are people who are called to live by faith, act with love, and walk with hope. Hope is living with the ‘not yet,’ the apparent incompleteness of what we do, the energy to get up again after we have confronted frustration.
Helping others 44. ‘Think global, act local’ (or as we might rephrase it into more religious terms: ‘Think God, love neighbour’) also fits into the basic plan of salvation. We seek to build the kingdom of the Father — and we pray for its coming. We do this in union with the Son — we act as the body of Christ. We press on in hope which is an effect of the Holy Spirit living within us —and the Spirit enlightens and enlivens us.
5. ‘Think global, act local’ has become one of the valuable slogans for many groups. We Christians must also make this slogan our own: it can help us link the values of the kingdom to the practical actions our human situations demand, and it can give concrete expression to one of the pressing urgencies of discipleship.
***************************************************Sean GoanGospel Notes
jesus preachesWhile Mark places great emphasis on Jesus’ role as a teacher and frequently uses this word to describe him, we are not given much detail about the content of his teaching. One exception to that is in chapter 4 where we hear a series of Jesus’ parables of the kingdom. All the gospels agree that the parable was the primary means by which he taught the crowds and this was one of the main characteristics of his remarkable ministry. In this text there are two such parables about the kingdom, both centred on the theme of growth. In the first, the kingdom is likened to the situation that unfolds when someone sows seed in the ground. The seed grows independently of him, he knows not how, until the time of the harvest. Jesus wants his hearers to understand that as surely as the seed grows so too does the work of the kingdom happen. It is not up to us — it is a gift of God. The following parable says something similar, using language that echoes the words of Ezekiel from the first reading. The mustard seed is the tiniest of all but the shrub that issues from it is the greatest of all. So the kingdom, from insignificant beginnings, will grow to give shade to all who come to shelter in its branches.
Cn TreasuresThe unique message of Jesus is summed up by his use of the phrase ‘kingdom of God’ and his unique way of speaking about it was the parable. No doubt Jesus could have written a book or given a series of dogmas and rules, but he chose rather to tell short stories by way of illustration. The kingdom he speaks of is not the afterlife but an expression of how God wants the world to be. So the parables of the kingdom deal with God’s will for the world and how his grace is at work around us. As such, they offer both comfort and challenge. Today’s parables stress that we must not fret or worry but rather trust that the kingdom will come because God wants it to. They are an invitation to take time to consider how the plan of God unfolds around us in ways that are both surprising and sure.
From the Connections:
The mustard seed – that tiny speck containing the chemical energy to create the great tree – is a natural parable for the greatness that God raises up from small beginnings.
Farming is a matter of hard work and patient faith:  All the farmer can do is plant the seed and nurture it along with water and care; God's unseen hand in creation transforms the tiny seed into a great harvest.  Today’s Gospel parables of the sower and the mustard seed, then, are calls to patience, hope and readiness.
Jesus may have been directing his words to the Zealots, a Jewish sect that sought the political restoration of Israel.  Many Zealots were terrorists, employing murder and insurrection to destabilize the Roman government.  The Zealots dreamed of a Messiah who would restore the Jewish nation.  Jesus, however, calls them to see their identity as God's people not in terms of political might but of interior faith and spiritual openness to the love of God.

HOMILY POINTS:                         
We are called to seek the wisdom of God with the patience and dedication of the sower; we are entrusted with the work of making the reign of God a reality in our own lives with the gentle but determined faith of the mustard seed.
Christ asks us to embrace the faith of the sower: to “plant” seeds of peace, reconciliation and justice wherever and whenever we can in the certain knowledge that, in God's good time, our plantings will result in the harvest of the kingdom of God.
With the patience and hope of mustard seed faith, our smallest acts of compassion and generosity, in our unnoticed and unheralded offerings of affirmation and support, we can transform the most barren of places into great gardens of hope.

Ring of gold
True story:
A church had collected clothing for the poor and homeless.   The parish youth group volunteered to sort, fold and pack the clothes.  The kids made a game of it, trying on items that caught their imaginations, creating weird costumes, merrily clowning as they worked.
Then one of the kids felt a lump in the pocket of a worn cardigan sweater.  He reached in the pocket and found a little bundle.  He opened it to find a gold wedding ring.  On the paper wrapped around the ring was written in a shaky hand:  “I have no need of this now.  I hope it will help you.”
The hilarity in the room was hushed.  The ring glowed as it was passed silently and reverently from one young hand to another.  No one joked, no one presumed to try on that sacrificial gift for a needy stranger.
Tenderly, the ring was refolded inside the note.  It was secured inside the pocket of the sweater with strong safety pin; the sweater was then packed off with the other clothes.
But for the students, the radiance of the ring remained.
[Phoebe Ann Lewis, Catholic Digest, August 1990.]

Sometimes we never know how much a kind word we utter will mean to someone else or how even the smallest act of charity we extend will transform another person's life.  Christ asks us to embrace the faith of the sower: to be willing to plant seeds of kindness and joy wherever and whenever we can in the certain knowledge that it will, in some way, result in a harvest of God's life and love.  
From Father James Gilhooley

A man walked into a store. He found Christ behind the counter. He asked, "What do you sell here?" Christ replied, "You name it." "I want food for all, good health for kids, adequate housing for everyone, and abortion to cease."  Gently Jesus answered, "Friend, I do not sell finished products here, only seeds. You must plant them and water them. I will do the rest."

 When Jesus told this parable of the smallest seed in the world, His disciples were in a downer. They had worked so hard and so little had happened. The famous mountain had been in labor and only a mouse had been born. Their work, begun with a bang, was about to close down without a notice.

Given their depression, the Christ told them this three verse parable of the minuscule mustard seed. Though its beginnings are modest, its final height is awesome.

He wanted them to realize that despite their few numbers and the opposition against them a great Church would arise from their labors. The history books show how correct He was.

Someone has noted that masterpieces come from the smallest beginnings. From eight notes come every hymn, song, and symphony ever composed. Arguably the greatest piece of music ever written is Beethoven's Ninth Symphony - all of it from eight notes. All literature is born from the twenty-six letters of the alphabet. From them came the Declaration of Independence, the United  States Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address.

 But one does not have to produce masterpieces to have an effect. Small acts make a difference. Graduating college seniors hear much nonsense from commencement speakers. However, Sydney Schanberg, the Pulitzer Prize journalist, whose reports formed the 1984 film "The Killing Fields," was a blessed exception.

He told the graduates before him, "You are often told you can change the world. But that is rubbish. What you can do is make the world modestly better." He went on to speak of their own classmates who assisted the homeless and fed the hungry over their college careers. These people made a difference. They themselves grew and developed. They were helping people one by one. Bigger is not necessarily better. His message was it is a great thing to do a little thing well.               
Find a cause. Go for it. Take Gandhi's advice: "First they ignore you. Then they laugh. Then they attack. Then you win." We wish to see objects grow in a flash. Yet, Christ is telling us that though you cannot see it, the mustard seed is maturing. It will become among the largest of all plants. It will climb to eleven feet. No wonder birds flock to its branches for R & R and travelers crawl into its shade for lunch and a nap.

 A story is told of an experiment performed by a physicist. She wanted to show her students the effect a small object can have on block of iron. The block was hanging from the ceiling. The physicist began throwing paper balls at the metal. At first nothing happened. Then after a time the iron began to vibrate, then sway, and at last move freely.

The poet Lucretius wrote, "Dripping water hollows a stone."

 Everything must begin somewhere. No one emerged fully grown from his mother's wombs. If Christians could learn to bring together their modest contributions to the commonweal, can you imagine what a force for good we would be for those about us?

 The Nazarene is saying to us, "Develop where you are planted." He warns us to that often we quit growing because, as James Tahaney said, we prefer groaning.    

Some years ago I heard of an Oscar winning actor. He owed his career to an elderly woman. As a young man, he received bad notices. Finally he resolved to give up his dreams of becoming an actor. Then a note arrived in his mail box from an anonymous fan. She had heard of his despondency. She wrote but four words. "Keep acting. You're good." That small note gave him the courage to continue. From her four words grew an Oscar winner.

 I have worked for years with teens. They often have sorrowfully spoken to me of how little or no encouragement they receive from their own families, friends, and even teachers. Cannot you and I substitute for those silent people?  Cannot we do for them what the fan did for the actor? Our compliment need be no more than four words.

 Begin today. Encourage others. And remember the advice of Winston Churchill, "The difficulty is not to be expected in the beginning but rather when one attempts to stay the course."
From Fr. Tony Kadavil:
1) Do  you  know  what  happened to  the tiny seed Rita  Rizzo planted?
You probably don't recognize the name, Rita Antoinette Rizzo. Rita was born on April 20, 1923 She had a rough childhood  which  she spent mostly  in poverty. When she was a young woman Rita decided to become a nun. At 21 she entered the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, a Franciscan religious order for women. She believed that God was calling her into television ministry. At the time she didn't know anything about television except how to turn one on. But she prayed about it and decided  to go ahead with the project, believing  that everything would fall into place. With only two hundred dollars and a handful of other sisters, she became the only woman in religious broadcasting to own a network.  She went on to found a new house for the order in 1962 in Irondale, Alabama,  where  the  Eternal  Word  Television  Network   (EWTN),  is headquartered. In  1996 she initiated  the building of  the Shrine  of  the Most Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady of the Angels monastery in Hanceville, Alabama. Today this sister, Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, is seen by millions of people on her prerecorded twice weekly program, "Mother Angelica Live." Her network, EWTN, is available 24 hours a day everywhere in the world. Visitors to the EWTN complex in Birmingham, Alabama cannot help but  be impressed  with what  God has accomplished  using  this  little  nun  - a monastery, network  facilities  complete  with satellite  dish,  a print shop and a chapel. Whoever would have thought that Rita Rizzo, coming from an impoverished  background, and starting  on her own with only a few hundred dollars, could reach out and help millions of people to learn and appreciate their faith? Whoever would have thought that from such a tiny seed would become such a large shrub? That is the way the kingdom of God works.

2) "Don't ever stop. It means a lot to those around you."
In a restaurant, a family of five bowed their heads in prayer before beginning to eat. One of the children, a girl of about ten, expressed thanks for the entire family in a hushed voice, her head bobbing expressively. A few moments later a couple, on their way to pay their check, paused at the family's table. "It's been a long time since we've seen anyone do that," said  the man, extending  his  hand to the father. The father smiled and replied, "It was strange at first, but we always express thanks at home before we eat. The children continued it when we went to restaurants, so we just went along with it, and now it's our way." The woman who had come up to the table patted the little girl on the shoulder and, obviously touched, looked at the mother and said, "Don't ever stop. It means a lot to those around you." It seems like such a little thing, but it was a witness. The seeds of the kingdom are little, and we are called to scatter them.

 3) Tiny killer of a giant bull dog:
President Reagan loves to tell the story of a lady who knocked on a man's door and said, "Do you own a black Pit Bull dog?" The man said, "Yes." Well, the lady said, "I have to tell you, it's dead." The man demanded, "What do you mean it's dead?" "What happened?" And the lady said, "My tiny dog Pekinese killed it." And the man said, "Your Pekinese killed it? How?" She said, "It got stuck in his throat."

4) Small plot and big plot of land:
A Texan was visiting a friend who was a small Iowa farmer. "Is this all the land you have?" he asked. "Where I come from, I can get in my car at 6:00 a.m. and drive all day and never see the end of my land." "Is that right?" said the Iowa farmer. "I used to have a car like that too."

5) A visitor to the Vatican
was quite impressed with the beauty and power of the place. He asked Pope John XXIII this question: "How many people do you have working here?" With a twinkle in his eye, the pope replied, "About half of them."
From Fr. Jude Botelho:

In today's first reading Ezekiel points to the cedar tree which is symbolic of David's kingdom, which God promises to restore after the exile. God will make things happen. "I myself will take the shoot from the top and I will plant it upon a high and lofty mountain." This prophecy indicates that David's kingdom will not only be restored to its former glory but will be fulfilled in the kingdom of Christ. We cannot do anything to bring about the kingdom but God can and will in His time and by His power.

God is at work all the time
Don't think that you are either too young or too old to do great things. Thomas Jefferson was 33 when he drafted the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Franklin was 26 when he wrote Poor Richard's Almanac. Charles Dickens was 25 when he wrote Oliver Twist. Newton was 23 when he invented the Law of gravity. But there is the opposite side of the story: Emmanuel Kant was 74 when he wrote his deepest philosophical works. Goethe was 80 when he completed Faust. Alfred Tennyson was 80 when he wrote Crossing the Bar. Michelangelo completed his greatest work at 87. Titan at 98 painted the historic Battle of Lepanto. Chief Justice Holmes at 90 still wrote brilliant judgements. God works all the time and at any time!
Plavendran & Victor Raj in 'Inspiring Insights'

In today's gospel Jesus explains how the Kingdom of God works through two parables. He says, the Kingdom of God is like a man who plants the seed into the ground and goes to sleep. The farmer's job is to sow the seed. He can do nothing to make the plant grow. His staying awake, his worrying about whether the seed will sprout will not help the process. He has to be patient and to wait in hope. He does not know how the seed grows and becomes a plant. Even though nothing much is happening on the outside, the miracle of growth is taking place within. Similarly, when we pray nothing may seem to be happening on the outside but harvest time comes in His time. We need to wait patiently for the Lord to do His work in His way. In the second parable Jesus compares the Kingdom to the little mustard seed that grows into the largest shrub so that the birds of the air can shelter and nest in it. It is in humble beginnings that great things are achieved. The kingdom of God is within us and grows silently. Its growth is invisible but certain because God is in charge. We find it hard to believe because we want tangible proof and speedy action. God works differently. His ways are not our ways! We are called to be patient and to sow good seeds and leave the rest to God. In this second parable which also speaks of growth, it contrasts the smallness of the seed with the enormity of the tree. The seed also symbolizes the insignificant beginnings of Jesus' ministry with the ongoing widespread growth of God's kingdom till the final consummation.

Bamboo Tree
One of the strangest seeds in the world is the seed of the Chinese bamboo tree. It lies buried in the earth for five years before any seedling or sprout appears above ground. Think of it! Five years! All during these five years the seed must be cultivated, that is, watered and fertilized regularly. Now comes the big surprise. When the bamboo seedling appears above the ground, it grows to a height of nine feet in just six weeks. Why does the seedling take so long to emerge? Why does it grow so fast once it emerges? Plant experts say that during its first five years in the soil the bamboo seed is busy building an elaborate root system. It's this root system that enables it to grow nine feet in six weeks. -Does our faith have deep roots? How can we know? What is our root system that nourishes us every day?
Gerard Fuller in 'Stories for All Seasons'

Let Him take care

One evening when Luther saw a little bird perched on a tree, to roost for the night, he said, "This little bird has had its supper, and now, it is getting ready to sleep here, quite secure and content, never troubling itself about what its food will be, or where it's lodging on the morrow. Like David, it "abides under the shadow of the Almighty". It sits on its little twig content, and lets God take care.

The Brick
About ten years ago, a young and very successful executive named Josh was travelling down a Chicago neighbourhood street. He was going a bit too fast in his sleek, black, 12 cylinder Jaguar XKE, which was only two months old. He was watching for kids darting out from between parked cars and slowed down when he thought he saw something. As his car passed, no child darted out, but a brick sailed out and - WHUMP! - it smashed into the jag's shiny black side door! SCREECH...!!! Brakes slammed! Josh jumped out of the car, grabbed the kid and pushed him up against a parked car. He shouted at the kid, "What was that all about and who are you? Just what the heck are you doing?!" Building up a head of steam, he went on. "That's my new Jag, that brick you threw is gonna cost you a lot of money. Why did you throw it?" "Please, mister, please. . . I'm sorry! I didn't know what else to do!" pleaded the youngster. "I threw the brick because no one else would stop!" Tears were dripping down the boy's chin as he pointed around the parked car. "It's my brother, mister," he said. "He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair and I can't lift him up." Sobbing, the boy asked the executive, "Would you please help me get him back into his wheelchair? He's hurt and he's too heavy for me." Moved beyond words, the young executive tried desperately to swallow the rapidly swelling lump in his throat. Straining, he lifted the young man back into the wheelchair and took out his handkerchief and wiped the scrapes and cuts, checking to see that everything was going to be OK. He then watched the younger brother push him down the sidewalk toward their home. It was a long walk back to the sleek, black, shining, 12 cylinder Jaguar XKE -a long and slow walk. Josh never did fix the side door of his Jaguar. He kept the dent to remind him not to go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at him to get his attention. Some bricks are softer than others. Feel for the bricks of life coming at you. For all the negative things we have to say to ourselves, God has positive answers.

God of small things!
"I cannot see any progress since the last time I was here," a visitor to the studio of Michelangelo said. "I have retouched this part," the master said, "polished that, softened this feature, brought out that muscle, given more expression to the lip and more energy to the limb." "But those things are all trifle," exclaimed the visitor. "That may be," said Michelangelo, "but trifles make perfection and perfection is no trifle." -For God everything counts. A legend says many were standing at St. Peter's gate while St. Peter was reading the judgements. To one he read, "I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, come in." To another, "I was hungry and you gave me to eat, come in." And so on. In line there was also a clown who had worked only in a circus to make people laugh. He was afraid of St. Peter's judgement. He came to Peter with his head down, while Peter was reading, "I was sad and depressed and you made me laugh, come in."
J. Maurus in "A Source-book of Inspiration"

His ways are not our ways!

"Lord, in our modern world there are many things we can do just by pressing a button or turning a switch; eventually we come to think we can move people just like that too. Remind us that helping others to grow is something totally different. It is rather like throwing a seed on the land; night and day we sleep, we are awake, the seed is sprouting and growing, how we do not know. We see some results and we think the crop is ready but we have to wait a little longer. Only when the harvest has come can we start to reap. Lord, our leaders like to stand over us and hand down instructions. But you are not like that. You speak your word in parables, in Bible passages, in things that happen to us, in people. We cannot get to the bottom of them, but you give us time because you only teach as far as we are capable of understanding. Then when the time comes we understand the parable so clearly, with so much joy; it is as if you had taken us aside as your own special pupils and explained everything to us. Lord, help us to relate to others as you relate to us."


Most of us have planted a garden or lived on or near a farm. In my case, I grew up in Chicago where they have to put cows in zoos because so many city people are shielded from agricultural life and would never otherwise get to see one. But for eleven years I served as the pastor of a church in the agriculturally-oriented community of Davenport, Iowa. Davenport is located in Scott County which is Mississippi River land. It is reported to be some of the richest soil in the world. I learned a lot about farming while living there. I learned about soil and seeds. I learned about the need for cooperation and balance between the various parts of nature - the sun, the soil, and the rain. Having returned recently from a trip to Iowa, I was very mindful of the soil. As we drove along the highway we saw some fields which were completely washed away, others that were too dry. For all farmers, life is intricately linked to the soil. Having some agricultural background is helpful when it comes to looking at the three parables of the soils and the kingdom in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Mark.

The first such parable is called the Parable of the Sower (4:4-20). There are four different kinds of soil, Jesus said,
  • hard soil (a path);
  • rocky ground;
  • thorny ground; and
  • good soil.
People, Jesus said, are like those four kinds of soil. The Word of God is the seed which falls into four different kinds of soil.

The second parable in the fourth chapter of Mark is the parable of the harvest (4:26-29). The seed grows as the farmer goes about his work day by day. The day comes when the grain is ripe. Then comes the harvest. We must live with a knowledge that for each of us there will be a harvest day, a time of death, and a time of astounding change. Who would guess the wonders of heaven having seen the original seed of life?

The third parable about soil is the parable of the mustard seed (4:30-32). The Kingdom of God, like the mustard seed, starts small, but grows into a large shrub with many branches.

These parables of the soil are designed to take the familiar and use it to show something new. New perspectives are thus encouraged. New Kingdom participation is encouraged...
 Steve Morrison tells a story about a friend of his who likes to read fairy tales to his two young sons at night. This friend has great sense of humor and often times ad-libs parts of the stories just for fun. One day his youngest son was sitting in his first grade class as the teacher was reading the story of the Three Little Pigs. She came to the part of the story where the first pig was trying to gather building materials for his home.

She said "...And so the pig went up to the man with a wheel barrow full of straw and said 'Pardon me sir, but might I have some of that straw to build my house with?'"

Then the teacher asked the class "And what do you think that man said?"

This friend's little boy raised his hand and said "I know! I know! he said, 'Holy smokes! A talking pig!'" The teacher was unable to teach for the next ten minutes.  

We may not be able to predict what our kids are going to say, but there's one thing for certain, it'll usually be something unexpected. Hopefully they won't repeat something we've said, that maybe we shouldn't and embarrass us. And the other thing we know for sure is our children are like sponges, they soak up everything we say and everything we do. 

What we say to them and about them makes a huge difference in who they become.

Listen for the Word of God and listen to what God is saying to you today as we read from Mark's gospel 4:26-34. 

What we say and what we do are like seeds planted in the hearts and minds and spirits of our children. Jesus makes it very clear that often times it's the smallest things which make the biggest difference in our faith. The same can be said about parenting. Watch this. 

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Our children will not only imitate us, but in many ways, they will grow up to be like us simply because we're their parents. Surveys show that parents still have more influence than peer pressure, even though the kids might rebel. 

So, you might say that parenting is kind of like farming or gardening. You see, I learned something about vegetable gardening from Grandpa Bauer, We Harvest What We Plant. If we plant squash, we can't expect to get corn. If we plant potatoes you can't expect to get tomatoes. We Harvest What We Plant. The same is true in parenting. And in my opinion, the best way to make sure we reap the best harvest is to plant the best seed possible. 

And that means we have to go back to elementary school for a little bit. Elementary school is where we learned all the basic for everything else we would learn. And one of the most important lessons for parenting in elementary comes from Show and Tell time. As parents we're called to Show our children how to live as a Christian in the world today. We're called to Show them how much we love them. And we're called to tell them how much we love them... 
A Riddle 

About ten years ago, the youth director on our staff told me a riddle, and then he left town on a week-long camping trip without telling me the answer. He told me the riddle, and then he said "Oh yeah, only 17% of Stanford graduates figured out this riddle, but 80% of kindergarteners knew the answer." And then he left! I could have strangled him! But here' the riddle:

"What is stronger than God,
more evil than the devil,
poor people have it,
rich people don't need it,
and if you eat it, you'll die?"

The answer is: "Nothing." I knew I should have gone to Stanford!

Literally, the word parable means "a riddle." They are stories that leave the listener with the responsibility of figuring out just what they mean. Jesus told more than 40 parables during his ministry, and he only explained one of them to his disciples, so that left the disciples with a lot of figuring out to do. And then Jesus took the answers with him when he ascended into heaven. So here we are, some 2000 years later, still pondering what Jesus must have meant when he told the story of The Wedding Feast, or The Dishonest Steward, or The Good Samaritan.

Steven Molin, Yup, Them Are Mustard Seeds
Mortals Only See the Beginning 

All their lives the two young brothers had lived in the city behind great stone walls and never saw field nor meadow. But one day they decided to pay a visit to the country.

As they went walking along the road they saw a farmer at his plowing. They watched him and were puzzled.

"What on earth is he doing that for!" they wondered. "He turns up the earth and leaves deep furrows in it. Why should someone take a smooth piece of land covered with nice green grass and dig it up?"

Later they watched the farmer sowing grains of wheat along the furrows.

"That man must be crazy!" they exclaimed. "He takes good wheat and throws it into the dirt."

"I don't like the country!" said one in disgust. "Only crazy people live here."

So he returned to the city.

His brother who remained in the country saw a change take place only several weeks later. The plowed field began to sprout tender green shoots, even more beautiful and fresher than before. This discovery excited him very much. So he wrote to his brother in the city to come at once and see for himself the wonderful change.

His brother came and was delighted with what he saw. As time passed they watched the sproutings grow into golden heads of wheat. Now they both understood the purpose of the farmer's work.

When the wheat became ripe the farmer brought his scythe and began to cut it down. At this the impatient one of the two brothers exclaimed: "The farmer is crazy! He's insane! How hard he worked all these months to produce this lovely wheat, and now with his own hands he is cutting it down! I'm disgusted with such an idiot and I'm going back to the city!"

His brother, the patient one, held his peace and remained in the country. He watched the farmer gather the wheat into his granary. He saw him skillfully separate the grain from the chaff. He was filled with wonder when he found that the farmer had harvested a hundred-fold of the seed that he had sowed. Then he understood that there was logic in everything that the farmer had done.

The moral of the story: Mortals see only the beginning of any of God's works. Therefore they cannot understand the nature and the end of creation.

Brian Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes, quoting from A Treasury of Jewish Folklore: Stories, Traditions, Legends, Humor, Wisdom and Folk Songs of the Jewish People, Edited by Nathan Ausubel Copyright, 1948, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York
Trifles Make Perfection 

Michelangelo, one of the world's great artists, was also a great sculptor. One day a visitor was looking at a statue that Michelangelo was making. The visitor said, "I can't see that you have made any progress since I was here last time."

Michelangelo answered, "Oh, yes, I have made much progress. Look carefully and you will see that I have retouched this part, and that I have polished that part. See, I have worked on this part of the statue, and have softened the lines here."

"Yes," said the visitor, "but those are all trifles."

"That may be," replied Michelangelo, "but trifles make perfection and perfection is no trifle."

Successful people are aware of the trifles. As a Ethiopian proverb puts it: "When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion." The great writer Bruce Barton once said, "I am tempted to think there are no little things." 

King Duncan, Collected Sermons,
The Mystery of Growth 

If the growing seed parable seems to be about the mystery of kingdom growth, the mustard seed image is about the apparent weakness of the kingdom. The day will come when the results of the kingdom's silent, steady growth will be impressive. Meanwhile don't be surprised if the seeds you plant look ineffective. Don't be surprised if the witness you have to offer gets laughed at on account of looking so puny. It's the old "Jack and the Beanstalk" fable: Jack's mother scorns the tiny beans he brings home from the market. They can never live off those! So in anger she hurls them out the window. Those beans were a non-starter, a mistake, a dead-end nutritionally and in every other sense. Except that, of course, they ended up sprouting into a beanstalk that went, in a way, clear up to heaven.  

Scott Hoezee, Mystery Seeds
Let the Gospel Run Its Course 

For me, one of the classic interpretations of this Biblical passage about the seed growing automatically (Mark 4:26) was written by Martin Luther when he said about this text: "After I preach my sermon on Sunday, when I return home, I drink my little glass of Wittenberg beer and I just let the gospel run its course." I like that. Luther said that after he pounded on the pulpit and expounded the gospel, he would go home and pull out the Sunday newspaper, and pull out his glass of warm Wittenberg beer and start to drink it and enjoy the afternoon. Luther knew that the power of his sermon was not based on the power of his theological acuity. He knew that the power of his sermon was not based on his eloquence or his abilities. He knew that the power of the sermon would have no effect whatsoever unless the very Word of God got into a person's heart. Luther knew that he couldn't do that. It was the Holy Spirit who did that. Luther keenly understood the power of the Word.

Edward F. Markquart, The Mustard Seed
Small Ways Every Day 

I hate to bring up The Ten Commandments when I'm preaching on the Gospel of Mark, but...remember that they are very rarely Cecil B. de Mille, big-screen, neon-sign events. They really aren't. They are small choices made on small days, over and over and over again. Such as choosing to remember that God made us for freedom and gave us as a gift, not a punishment, rules to live by. Small things such as remembering God made us, so we don't make God. Such as remembering that we had better not put God's name on anything in a vain show of power. Such as remembering that if God made the universe from a little marble and rested, then we are just created and hard wired to let go of our tiny universes and rest too. Little things, like remembering not just to honor your parents when they are old and gray, but also to train your own children to honor you. And don't let them get away with small, crummy, petty things. And don't lie in small things. Then the great truths within you have a shot. And don't strike up teasing, betraying relationships. Almost every adulterous relationship that people bring to pastors like me is when their miserable family is imploding. Every one of them begins with small, careless choices. And don't murder, which may mean more than we want it to mean. And don't steal. I know that means more than any of us want stealing to mean. But if we don't steal in small ways, we won't get all messed up in big ways. And then this last one, which this year I think is the biggest one. Don't covet. Don't waste your life wanting another life. An old friend calls it a case of the "I wants." Whatever "I wants" you have right now-bigger, better, more, different-find little ways of not renting that room in your head. Little ways, like I will not think about this for five minutes kinds of ways. Things perhaps no bigger than a mustard seed.

I follow the God who showed up two thousand years ago in small ways on days of small things. A healing touch here. A compassionate word there. Small things like not giving up on flawed friends. Like praying everyday. Small things like enjoying life. Jesus really enjoyed life. Small things like speaking truth to power. Like giving his small, mustard-seed-sized life so that the great labor of the new universe of resurrected, reborn life could be created.

Martha Sterne, A Day of Small Things
The Seed of Faith

Faith is a seed sown within the life of all human creatures. Faith is a seed full of potential for accomplishing great things for God. But unless that faith seed is nurtured and cultivated, unless that seed is given the opportunity to realize its potential, that potential goes untapped. Think about the keyboard of a piano; that keyboard contains in its 88 keys an "almost" infinite range of melodic potential and possibilities. Not only have untold thousands of compositions been written within its range of notes, but also many compositions can be played with various combinations and qualities of instruments and voices, and can be interpreted differently each time they are performed. Such is the vast potential of a piano keyboard.

What is true about music is symbolic of the human soul, too. A human life, beginning from an infinitesimally small cell, has potential for greatness and goodness. I believe this to be true of faith. Each of us has a kernel of faith, and within that kernel is a large potential to do God's will, to live a life full and productive for ushering in the Kingdom of God. Intellect, knowledge, practice will only release so much from that kernel of faith.

Merritt W. Ednie, God's Program In Process
Humor: Size Is Less Important Than Spirit

A small fellow, not much over 5 feet tall, applied for a job as a lumberjack in Alaska. The foreman, thinking to discourage him, gave him a large ax, set him before a tree hundreds of feet tall, and yards in diameter, and told him to chop it down. Within minutes the tree had been felled. The amazed foreman asked him where he'd learned to chop trees so powerfully. The little fellow replied, "When I worked in the Sahara forest." "You mean, the Sahara desert." "That was after I got there," said the small lumberjack.

The point of the story is that size is less important than spirit, or intelligence, or courage -- a point made when King David was selected at a young age: "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature ... for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."

A faith that grows has heart, a heart that belongs to God. Faith grows from the inside out.

Merritt W. Ednie, God's Program In Process
Growth Is in Our Reach

A third-grader taught the teacher an important truth: The teacher asked, "How many great people were born in our city?" "None," replied the pupil. "There were no great people born. They were born babies who became great people."

Greatness may not be within the reach of every one of us, but growth is. We are each capable of being a more mature person today than we were yesterday, and tomorrow can find us further along than we are today. And when we forget this vital truth, we lose sight of the essential meaning of life and the sources of its deepest fulfillment.

If a seed in its dark, restless journey underground is not content until it breaks through the mountain of soil and strains ever higher toward the sunlight, will we human beings be content to have our faith remain simply a seed full of potential?

Merritt W. Ednie, God's Program In Process
The Details Raise Questions

Have you ever seen the Salvador Dali painting where clock is sliding off the table and another one is bent backwards on a tree branch? It is called "the persistence of memory." Now, you know that clocks do not bend and melt and do not assume the positions they do in this painting. But what might it be saying about time? What happens to time? Time flies, time melts away, time disintegrates, things fall apart ... You may not like Dali's painting, but you cannot help but think about it.

The details in the parable of the mustard seed are skewed. We might not notice, not being Palestinian farmers, but those who heard Jesus tell this parable sure did. Mustard seeds are not the smallest seeds. They are tiny, but they are not the smallest by a great deal...