In Mark 4, Jesus begins his teaching ministry. He explains why he will use only parables for most people, but explain their meanings to the disciples, “ to whom has been given the secret (or mystery) of the kingdom of heaven.” (4:12)
In 4:3-21 seeds are scattered, seemingly at random. Only some fall on good soil and bear fruit.
Wasn’t that rather careless of the Sower (God)? Why didn’t he select the best land available, like any good farmer or horticulturist?
In 4:26-29, God’s kingdom is likened to someone scattering seed; sleeping well at nights;[i] watching the plants grow and sprout by day without understanding how; then harvesting the grain, vegetables or fruit when ready.
Our daily UC commentary With Love to the World (12/06/21) offers an exciting re-interpretation of the mustard seed parable (4:30-32). Unlike today, when mustard seeds produce valued spices and medicinal herbs, in ancient Palestine, the plants and shrubs which grew from them were seen as weeds. Even so, many birds found shelter under their branches.
The shrubs spread quickly, often in unlikely or unwanted spaces. In this parable, it is God who initiates the planting for which we are merely agents.
While we are called to spread the message of God’s kingdom by word and deed, we have no control over who may respond. God’s Holy Spirit determines what changing mixture of people will join us, sharing in the wonderful, though often confused and chaotic fellowship in Christ we call the church.
[i] See the late Bruce Prewer’s sermon, based on this text, on avoiding over-activity in churches – http://www.bruceprewer.com/DocB/BSUNDAY11.htm