A couple of years ago, shortly after I became a pastor in Knoxville, Tennesssee, some friends from New York came to visit. They opened the back door of the house and were thrilled to discover a back porch and a backyard. But I had to admit to them that I had never yet ever even stepped out onto that back porch or in that backyard!
Jesus did much of his public preaching and teaching in rural Galilee. So it’s no surprise so many of his images and parables are agricultural in inspiration. That may make obvious sense, but it also may make them hard for those of us whose background is completely urban to relate to. Indeed, to a non-gardener like myself, gardening seems incredibly complex and difficult. To a non-farmer like me, farming also seems complex and difficult. And, of course, real farming is hard work. But Jesus’ two parables which we just heard [Mark 4:26-32] focus on something else – less on the human work involved and more on the mysterious and silent part of the process. The kingdom of God, Jesus says in the first parable, is as if someone scatters seed on the land and over time watches it sprout and grow and yield fruit for the harvest. If the first parable focuses on the mysterious, silent, and patient process by which the seed once originally sown sprouts and grows on its own, the second parable contrasts the full fruition of God’s kingdom with its seemingly modest and maybe even inauspicious beginnings.
Obviously, a lot of what we do in life involves effort, even strenuous effort at times. Yet we all know that sometimes there is only just so much, which work and effort can accomplish. However ambitious and elaborate our plans, sometimes all we can actually do is to plant some seed, so to speak, and then wait patiently to see what happens. If that is true enough in ordinary life and in our ordinary activities, how much more true is it in the mission of the Church? Much of what we do in ministry is like that, sowing seeds, so to speak, sometimes in lots of different ways with no obvious or immediate result, and then waiting – patiently and hopefully – for something to happen.
Even in the first parable about the seed growing of its own accord, the farmer does do his part. There is activity on the farmer’s part, just as there is activity on the Church’s part - on our part - in the coming of God’s kingdom. The farmer makes his contribution, as God expects all of us to do. But, in both cases, the crucial action is God’s action – action, which occurs mysteriously and may mainly seem hidden. Our culture encourages us to be busy all the time and to be efficient, accomplishing a lot in our busy work. But, just as the famer in the parable scatters seed on faith, with no certain knowledge of how it will grow, the Church has to sow the seed of God’s word in the world, not knowing how or when our efforts will find fulfillment but confident about the coming of God’s kingdom in our lives and in our world – the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ, that we say we're praying for in every Mass.