Jesus said to the crowds, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man throws seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, he loses no time: he starts to reap because the harvest has come.’
He also said, ‘What can we say the kingdom of God is like? What parable can we find for it? It is like a mustard seed which at the time of its sowing in the soil is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.’
Using many parables like these, he spoke the word to them, so far as they were capable of understanding it. He would not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything to his disciples when they were alone.
As we return to Sundays of the Year in Ordinary Time, we are reminded that the ordinary tasks of life have their place in the greater part of the year – 34 weeks out of 52 are in fact ‘ordinary’ in this sense, excluding Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter season. The colour we use in Church now and in all the Sundays until November, appropriately enough, is green which signifies growth and bloom, the colour of seedlings and shrubs before the flowers and fruits emerge.
The emergence of the colour green all around us gives us hope and in fact the month of May and June there is a freshness and riot of green in our trees, fields, woodland, laneways and gardens. The farmer-gardener is patient – each day brings new signs in the spring and due season after a long winter that follows the sowing of seed seemingly so long before. This predictable pattern of nature takes many months and requires patience and perseverance in hope and faith that the elements will co-operate and the harvest will surely come.
This natural process corresponds to the growth of the Kingdom of God - the Church - a spiritual and supernatural mysterious reality – the growth of the Kingdom of love in this world evident in the lives and actions of individual believers and their communities, parishes, dioceses and religious institutes, hospitals, schools, and the like.
None of the cultivated growth –and this is the point of the parables – is possible without the work of the gardener/farmer who sows the seed. The ‘work’ of nature takes over. If the seed corresponds to each person who believes in Christ, the work of our sanctification and maturing in Christ is in fact the work of many seasons, and years.
Jesus uses the allegory of seed for the Kingdom of God on numerous occasions throughout His public ministry.
We know a small bit more than the hearers of Jesus, but the basic principles of nature still apply – the necessary conditions for germination of seed is still the same all the time. In biology we think of water, oxygen and warmth (WOW) which are pre-requisites for germination or spraying. But for seeds to last and to grow they need to be root well in good soil where they can anchor for support all through their life cycle. They also need the oxygen, mineral salts and water as well as dead organic material (or humus) for growth. In the air they need sunlight, air, shelter, warmth, and protection as they face exposure to the elements, as well as feeding predators. The life of a plant is a rather precarious one indeed. Hence farmers and gardeners show so much diligent care and supervision of a crop.
Within the seed itself, a process takes place while the farmer is in his bed at night.
Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know.
Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear
This is the slow but sure process of seed metabolism. In order to push out and emerge through the hard outer seed coat, softened now by water, the emerging young root (or radicle) and the emerging young shoot (or plumule) require energy. The rootlet must spread out feelers for water and anchoring, and the shoot must push upwards against gravity to face the elements. It is a mysterious and wonderful process dictated by the laws of nature and the genetic code in the plant. Yet the energy required must come from somewhere - before the plant can rely on the energy that comes from the sun. The seed itself has an energy store – a certain amount of fat and starch present in the seed that must be metabolised, respired, or consumed to make sure the plant has a fighting chance to grow. In other words what was the seed must die. Jesus in fact uses that analogy of Himself when explaining His passion to the Greeks who come enquiring after Him.
The result of death is new growth and abundance – in the case of a tiny mustard seed a tree can grow. The fruitfulness of good works emerges after the sacrifices we make of the generosity, sacrifices and self-denial required principally by the sanctification of our daily work and duty as well as works of service to our neighbour in works of justice. We must persevere with the Lord’s help each day until we are ready for the Kingdom of heaven
The just will flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a Lebanon cedar.
Planted in the house of the Lord
they will flourish in the courts of our God,
still bearing fruit when they are old,
still full of sap, still green,
Ezekiel – First Reading
‘From the top of the cedar,
from the highest branch I will take a shoot
and plant it myself on a very high mountain.
I will plant it on the high mountain of Israel.
It will sprout branches and bear fruit,
and become a noble cedar.
Every kind of bird will live beneath it,
every winged creature rest in the shade of its branches.