The Growing Seed: Mark 4:26-29

The Parable of the Growing Seed

26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

Mark 4: 26-29 (NIV)

Horsham: 23rd April 2024

This short parable is unusual in that it is unique to Mark’s Gospel.  We can easily pass over the opening phrase that ‘this is what the kingdom of God is like.’ (v26).  It is a parable which describes something about the establishment of God’s kingdom. It is typical of Jesus’ teaching to draw an illustration drawn from nature. As ever the image is both accessible and timeless.

I spent some time this afternoon sowing seeds. Tomatoes, beans, peas and sweetcorn. The sweetcorn seeds were small dried kernels of corn. They look completely lifeless. Having planted the seeds, I can look after them – watering them and keeping them warm, but in reality there is nothing I can do to make them grow. It is a wonder of nature that the tiny shriveled kernels of corn will grow into plants.

If all goes well, in the spring the seeds will produce a stalk, and later in the summer, those stalks will produce cobs of corn. By early autumn, I will come along and harvest the sweetcorn.

So the image is simple and straightforward, but what is the parallel with the kingdom of God which Jesus wanted the people to see here?

We’ve noticed before that the ministry of Jesus was not what people would have expected of the Messiah. Rather than confronting the Roman army of occupation and re-establishing Jewish rule, Jesus was quietly talking to people, standing up to the Jewish institutions, mixing with the needy and healing the sick. I wonder whether you can see that there is a sense in which as he deals with the community, his family, his followers and his disciples, Jesus is sowing seeds in human hearts. These are seeds which will, over time, grow and flourish as people become ready to follow and serve him, passing on the seeds of his light, love and grace to others.  No-one would ‘see’ the seeds germinate, but they would, in time, be left in no doubt that growth had taken pace.

‘People wouldn’t be able to see how God’s promised plant would grow from this seed, but grow it would and the harvest would come.’(i)

We discover in Acts 2 that God is able to create rapid dynamic growth in His Church, but that is not always the case and certainly does not reflect the ongoing experience of the early Church. In reality, his kingdom grows slowly, sometimes imperceptibly. The seeds of His kingdom are sown into human hearts and it is by His grace and in His timing that the seed will grow.

As followers of Jesus we are also privileged to scatter seeds. We do this by our teaching but more importantly by sharing and demonstrating His love. We may sometimes be disappointed not to see the fruit or even the germination of those seeds. But just now and then, we may see growth in others (often from seeds which we ourselves did not sow) which will reassure us that seeds do actually grow, and God is indeed building his kingdom here on earth, as it is in heaven.

(i) NT Wright, Mark for Everyone, p.46

Richard Jackson, West Sussex: LifePictureUK

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