Last year, I started a bunch of vegetable seeds inside the house in the early spring to later transplant into our garden. I had several of the black trays that each contain multiple pots. I filled each pot with soil – really good, expensive potting soil from the garden center. I then followed up with a seed for each pot – well, mostly I did. You see, each of those pots looked exactly the same after they were filled with dirt. Even after a seed was put in a pot and covered with dirt, it looked the same as all the others. The job was pretty monotonous, and after a while my mind started to wander. From time to time, I’d realize I’d lost track of which pot I put the last seed in. I’d guess at which pot should receive the next seed… and I missed a few.
Funny thing. No matter how good the soil was, nothing grew in the pots that had no seed.
Mark Chapter 4 is very similar to Matthew Chapter 13. The setting is quite similar – both relate the use of parables to teach secrets of the kingdom to the disciples following a period of opposition. Some of the same stories of opposition occur in both books before the teaching; some of the same parables are told in both books. The same information about why Jesus used parables is told in both, though Matthew fleshed out the explanation a bit more.
In both, Jesus gives the Parable of the Sower and its explanation, showing that the seed of the word won’t be received by everyone in the same way, and won’t yield fruit in everybody. There are those that don’t understand what they hear, those that have no root and fall away when persecution comes along, and those in which the word is choked out by the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and desires for other things. There are those, though, that are good soil – those that hear the word and accept it and bear an incredible amount of fruit. The condition of the soil is important for the seed to be able to grow.
Both books share Jesus’ Parable of the Mustard Seed, showing how the kingdom will grow into something incredibly big from a very small start, just as a small mustard seed grows into a large plant. Despite the three kinds of soil that will be unproductive, the kingdom is going to grow far beyond what they can imagine.
One parable focuses on the beginning; one parable focuses on the result.
Mark tells a parable that Matthew doesn’t relate, however. In the Parable of the Seed Growing, Mark focuses briefly on what is happening in between the beginning and the end. In just a couple of sentences, he shows the incredible power and mystery of the seed itself:
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.”
Soil, on its own, yields nothing. In the right soil though, the seed will do what it is designed to do. One doesn’t have to understand how. Slowly, gradually, step-by-step, it grows. You can see it happening – it sprouts, the stalk appears, then the head, then the full kernel, and then it ripens. With the right seed, in the right soil, the process will repeat over and over.
The Word is like that seed. It will do what it was designed to do. In the right soil conditions, it is unstoppable. It will grow, gradually, step-by-step, until it produces the harvest.
Lord, prepare our hearts for your word. Prepare the hearts around us for your word. Help us to hunger and thirst for the seed you have to give. Grow it in us, until we yield the harvest you desire.