And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. “The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. “But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
-Mark 4:26-29 (NASB)
As a gardener, I love this analogy of the Savior because it so accurately describes the agricultural process. There’s no science here. Just simple observation with heavenly insight. A farmer (gardener) plants seeds in the field. He adds water, no doubt, and without tending to the seeds ever again he watches them sprout and grow. And stands amazed. He can’t see below the soil. As far as he knows, the growing is a complete mystery. He just faithfully stands by as the seeds either grow or don’t grow. And not all will grow.
I love the roles portrayed here. The farmer is responsible for three things (I’m adding one here based on basic gardening experience). First he plants the seeds. This process involves tilling the soil and throwing the seed in the right spots. Covering the seeds may also be involved. Second, he waters the seed/soil. Jesus does not mention this but it was a part of Israel’s agriculture then just as it is now. After some time the plants grow and come into maturity. Then the farmer puts the sickle to the plants and the harvest is complete. The grain, fruit or vegetables will now feed his family and, perhaps, his nation.
The kingdom of God is like this, our Lord says. It’s a mystery. How it grows is the Lord’s work and He doesn’t always share His secrets! We don’t know who will receive the word and take it heart. The reality is some won’t. They will continue to be stubborn and obstinate and maybe even hostile. But others… no, others will let it penetrate to their very core. On the outside they may not show any signs of listening to what you or I say just like that soil may show no signs of the seed sprouting. But one day… unexpected day… they will come up to you and ask a question. And that question will lead to an answer (well framed or not!). And the seed will grow some more. How fast it grows we cannot tell. Growing is God’s task. When the seed is mature it’s ready to be harvested. A person will fall to their knees and the kingdom expands. I love how the Lord words it: “when the crop permits.” You mean the crop has to permit? Aye. There is a third player in this divine drama: the plant. You cannot force a plant to bear fruit. You cannot force a plant to be mature. God grows the person until He knows they’re ready and they know they’re ready. The Holy Spirit has done His work.
Over time I’ve had the opportunity to plant some seeds. Usually the seeds are met by the hard soil of obstinacy. I remember sharing bits and pieces of the Gospel in a newspaper office but being met by skepticism and mocking. I never got to see any seeds grow. Once again, I knew that was God’s job. Another farmer would have to reap the harvest, if it came. I also used to frequent restaurants at night to see if any opportunities would arise from the graveyard shift. I’m a night owl and, besides being hungry later than normal people, I know that a lot of the more distressed waiters and waitresses have to work at night. Most taking the overnight shift are those in dire need of work. The Lord opened up several opportunities to share my faith and pray for folks in need. But I never got to see the seeds grow. I wish I could do the late night thing now but my job involves mornings, so I can’t. I do miss it.
Sometimes seeds grow fast. Sometimes slow. God does the growing. Our job is to plant the seed, watch the soil, and reap the harvest when it permits — when it’s ripe. When we’re faithful in doing these things the kingdom rejoices. And we get to see it expand. How cool!