Proper 6, Year B brings us back to everybody’s favorite season: it’s Kingdom Parable Time!!!!!! All the contextualized fun of Jesus’ regular parables, with the added bonus that they are describing something we can’t even imagine! Yay!
I’m being facetious, of course, but there is some truth in the thought that the Kingdom Parables are about the toughest genre a preach will have to deal with. They are often short, dense, and full of things that made perfect sense to first century Jews, but an awful lot gets lost in translation. Take everyone’s favorite Kingdom Parable as an example. The Parable of the Sower is clearly not to be taken literally. Nobody will waste that much seed, and nobody would expect returns of 30, 60, or 100-fold. In our current context, where farming is almost entirely mechanized, family farms are nearly non-existent, and, quite frankly, barely anyone gives any real thought about where their food comes from, this parable just seems odd, and yet there are lessons to be learned about the extravagance of God and the call to discipleship.
The same is true in Sunday’s double-header of Kingdom Parables from Mark 4. We’ll deal with the mustard seed tomorrow, but today I want to look at the pithy harvest parable.
“The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
Science has helped us to understand how seeds mature into grain, but even in Jesus’ time they knew of using minerals and manure to grow better crops, and as I said before, these parables aren’t meant to be lessons in agriculture, they are meant to describe the Kingdom of God. Putting aside the naivete’ of the farmer in Jesus’ parable for a moment, we see Jesus highlighting two discipleship tasks in the Kingdom of God. The farmer scatters seed and the farmer engages the harvest.
Plant and harvest, plant and harvest, plant and harvest. Like all parables, the lessons is not explicit, and the first meaning is usually the wrong one. My initial thought is that this is a parable about evangelism. We are to tell the Good News and then help those who believe it to live the kingdom life. That’s probably not wrong, but there are probably other ways to interpret this parable. Maybe we plant seeds simply by loving our neighbor and the harvest comes when love abides. Maybe we plant seeds by caring for the poor and the harvest comes when justice rolls down like a mighty river. Maybe we plant seeds through prayer and Bible study and the harvest comes by way of a deep and rich relationship with God. Maybe we plant seeds by giving sacrificially to the Kingdom and the harvest comes by way of blessings unimaginable. There are lots of ways to interpret planting and harvesting, but the underlying truth remains, God blesses what is planted with an abundant harvest.