One of the things that fascinate children in a particular way is planting something and watching it grow. Do you recall how mesmerised you were when you first planted something and watched it begin to grow? I recall doing it with sees of wheat in moist cotton wool. The advantage of this particular process was, of course, that one didn’t need to wait very long to see the result of one’s planting!
Planting and harvesting for a child is perhaps as fascinating as it is because it mirrors children’s own reality, their own potential and promise. Maybe this is why the child within us likes to plant a tree to mark the opening of a new project, or a new period in our social history. As we wonder at the future, it seems natural and right to plant a tree. We hope that our new endeavour will grow as does the tree.
Today Jesus presents us with the imagery of planting and harvesting as a metaphor of the Kingdom which he announces is in our midst. The Kingdom is inserted into the soil of our world by a word of graciousness, full of promise and hope. But do we trust this potential?
Mark’s community, for which this gospel was first written, was unsure whether to trust. In the face of so many contradictions brought about by persecution and the fragility of faith, how could they trust the ongoing vitality of Jesus’ message? How could they sustain the vision of life which is the Kingdom? The possibility of this new vision blossoming seemed so remote given the ambiguity of their experience.
It would indeed not be possible if the process of life and growth lay in their own skill, or even in their own faithfulness. But the farmer does not possess the power to create the growth in the seed which he has planted. The potentiality of the seed is not his – it belongs to a force other than him. And though it is true that he must work to provide as good an environment as he can, in the end the farmer must give over, he must surrender and trust the power contained within the seed. The ‘show’ is not in his hands alone. Even no amount of watching is going to make the seed grown any faster that it is designed to do so.
Like Mark’s community we are being challenged by these parables to remember where the power of the Kingdom truly lies. The power of the Kingdom is not ours. It is in the word of God. And that word has an irresistible energy within it. Can we trust this energy? At times when we wonder whether there is any hope left for us? At times when we wonder whether all goodness has deserted us? When we wonder whether we could ever be worthy of forgiveness? Or at those times of uncertainty when truth seems so distant?
To trust in the Kingdom’s inherent power to come into its harvest also challenges us to respect the seasons and cycles which are part of every process of growth. There are both winter times and spring times, the times of dormancy and of verdancy. Again we cannot rely simply on what we see in front of us, on our immediate experience. We might be led to despair, and to throw away or uproot what is there. If we did, every autumn we could chop down all our European tress and find our gardens very much denuded come the Spring.Today, Jesus keeps urging us to see beyond, to look for that which is not immediately evident. And all the time to trust. Trust the power of the Kingdom to grow towards its harvest. Do all you can to create a sustaining environment, but in the end, even through all the vicissitudes of growth, give over to the seed’s own power.
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