[Jesus] also said, ‘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.’
He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Let me take you on a little tour of what Liz and I have been working on in our backyard this spring. We have our whole garden planned out. After last year’s experiments, we are in control this time. We know what we want, where we will plant it, and how it will come about. We weeded the garden beds, put up fencing around the more sensitive areas, and prepared the soil with compost and nutrients. We carefully spread out the seeds in rows at the perfect depth and distance. We keep them well watered but not over-watered. This year our garden will turn out exactly how we want it to.
In the first image that Jesus shares with us today we see a gardener go out, scatter seed on the ground, and go to sleep until the plants are ready. In my mind, this is the parable of the terrible gardener. I do not understand why Jesus would show us such a terrible example of gardening. Did they weed, did they prep the garden beds, did they use compost, did they water, did they appropriately space the seeds? This is clearly not going to work well for this out of control gardener.
But, much to my dismay, this year in our backyard garden not everything worked out the way we so meticulously planned and controlled. Some seeds never sprouted at all leaving empty beds, while others look weak and sickly, while yet others ran out of room and ran into weeds. So I start thinking to myself, the problem is I did not work hard enough. Next year, I will work harder, I will be smarter, I will do better.
But honestly, I do not think that is what this parable is all about. It seems to be about trust vs control. Do I trust the process, the seeds, the soil, even God? Or do I only trust in myself and try to take total control of the situation?
So then Jesus quickly shifts to another parable, the infamous parable of the mustard seed. We know that this tiny insignificant seed turns into one of the largest bushes around allowing all of the wild birds into its branches. But what I learned just this week is that no first century Palestinian would ever plant a mustard seed because it is a weed! It grows quickly and takes over everything in the garden. And worse than all that, it attracts all these birds that love to eat seeds and vegetables straight from your garden. Why is Jesus highlighting this gigantic dandelion when he could be talking about beautiful roses or nutritious vegetables? Why is Jesus showcasing the many birds when they will destroy my garden?
And the answer I am forced to come to is that Jesus’ ways are not my ways. Jesus’ ways are not American ways. Jesus’ ways are not the most productive or the most individualistic or the most end product focused. No, Jesus gives us these images of the kingdom of God that radically challenge our base assumptions on what is worthy or not, on who is worthy or not. Is God’s world about working harder? Is it about being the most useful or beneficial? Is it about keeping out the undesirables? Absolutely not. Jesus slept, like the gardener, on the boat, trusting in God. Jesus came to earth as a tiny mustard seed baby. Jesus welcomed all the birds and sex workers and centurions and tax collectors to eat with him.
In God’s imagined world for us, in the world that God is inviting us to help bring forth no one is useless or unworthy or disposable. All of creation is working with God in this beautiful image that allows us to trust in God’s goodness and take a nap instead of trying to control everything around us. All these parables of Jesus seem to suggest that all we do is to plant seeds. Not even that methodically or productively. Just scatter seeds wherever you are. In your workplace, in your school, with your family, at the restaurant, in your apartment complex, on your hike. Scatter seeds. Scatter seeds of welcome and love and grace and justice. Plant them and trust God. You do not have to do everything. You do not have to be perfect. You just have to be you and scatter those seeds.
Our garden has once more been full of surprises for us. We really wanted a successful dill plant so that we could do some pickling this year. So we planted several dill seeds. Carefully watering and preparing. And nothing. Nothing showed up. And despite all of our planning and preparation we gave up hope. And then to our surprise in the bed next to where we planted the original dill, a new dill plant popped up. We did not plant it. We did not water it. We did not plan for it. But God is good. We do not know how the seeds we plant will end up or where they will go or if we will ever see their fruit. But we can trust our loving Creator that the seeds will be used. Let us go forth as generous and extravagant gardeners, scattering seeds wherever we go.