Friday, June 15, 2012

B, Pentecost 3 Proper 6 – Mark 3:26-34 “Seemingly Insignificant Seed”

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And Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.  He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.  The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.  But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”  And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it?  It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth,  yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out 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 without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything. (Mark 4:26–34 ESV)
John Mark is known as the author of the Gospel according to St Mark. But the writings of Mark are the account of Saint Peter's eyes and ears, his falling down and being raised up, his life with Jesus as he lived for the cross, died on the cross, and was raised in glory over the cross. St Mark, Peter's companion, preserves Peter's sermons as he ministers to persected people in the Early Church, most likely in Rome.

Both Peter and Mark are men who have been humbled in Jesus Christ. Peter perhaps sees himself as the archetypal sinner, who rejected and deserted Jesus when the cock crowed just prior to his crucifixion. He is the man whom Jesus called the rock on which the church would be built, but was also rebuked as a hindrance and carrier of Satan. And it's understood John Mark is the youth who ran off naked into the night, humiliated, having had his garment ripped off when they ceased Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
It's in this context we look at Jesus' parables of the kingdom of God. These two men made low speak and write to us about mustard seed in the context of what the sower puts in the ground. At the beginning of chapter four Jesus tells the parable of the sower who scatters seed on good ground, rocky ground, amongst thorns, and on the path. He reveals the purpose of this and all parables to his disciples saying...
"To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that "they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven." (Mark 4:11–12 ESV)
He then tells them of the purpose of a lamp, that it shouldn't be hidden if it's going to be of any use to anyone. And then we hear of the hidden mystery of seed sown by the sower before we hear Jesus tell us the parable about the smallest seed one might cultivate — the mustard seed.
So let's see and understand what the mustard seed is, and what type of plant it grows into. The mustard seed we might use today is the little seed used in making pickles or ground up as a powder or paste. This seed planted grows into a bush. Not a big tree like a cedar but at best some varieties grow to about ten feet or three metres tall. Hardly a significant plant as far as size is concerned.
A better picture of mustard seed most likely encountered in Israel in the days of Jesus might look more like the seed of the canola flower, canola seed or rapeseed, from where we farm canola oil. This seed is tiny. Drop one canola seed on the ground and you would never expect to find it again. It is no larger than a grain of grit or coarse sandy soil. To recognise canola seed one really needs to see it in large quantities.
Now if one is not familiar with canola seed, it is from the brassica genus or type of plant family. We are most familiar with the many vegetables that come from this family of plants. Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, bok choy, brussel sprouts, turnips, and the black and white varieties of mustard seed. The other name for these vegetables is the cruciferous vegetable family.
Right here we have a link to the cross. This group of vegies all produce a flower, predominately yellow, that's in the shape of a cross, hence a cruciferous or "cross-bearing" vegetable. This cross bearing flower produces a tiny seed. If you let your winter vegies grow to flower and seed, you will end up with tiny dark seeds from your cabbages, broccoli, and cauliflower. This is the type of seed to which Jesus refers in the parable. Seed from the cruciferous vegetable family!
Now as amazing as this may be, let's focus on Jesus' parable about the mustard seed. One might ask why Jesus would use such a tiny seed and one that really doesn't grow into a king of plant life, like the mighty cedar that grows in the mountain range forests.
Imagine Jesus saying to you that the kingdom of God is like bok choy, or cabbage. It doesn't paint a very grand picture; rather a kingdom that's seemingly insignificant, from an even less than an impressive seed of germination. Surely the kingdom of God is more like a date pip or the nut from a cedar cone. One that grows into something life-giving and sweet, or tall and majestic! Or even something more popular and palatable like a grain of wheat or corn, that's good on the taste buds, which everyone knows and uses! But the seemingly insignificant seed of the mustard plant — big deal — not really!
Perhaps what is going on here is more about the unlikeliness of something insignificant becoming much greater than anyone might ever fathom. Maybe, it's an illustration Peter could understand and preach very well, and John Mark recalls in the wake of the mysterious events in their lives which happened in and around Jerusalem and on the crucifixion cross at Calvary.
Picture yourself as Peter or the young John Mark on the night Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane. How insignificant do you feel, how insignificant are you, as you deny your Lord three times and the cock crows, or as you flee into the night, embarrassed, without a stitch of clothing to cover your nakedness? Perhaps mustard seed or canola seed also known as rapeseed best describes us, Peter, and Mark, as we pillage much goodness from Jesus and give back nothing except a dead stalk of a cross on which to crucify him and seed so small it seems to amount to nothing.
But the profound truth of this parable is the mystery of the seed. When seen and understood how insignificant we really are, when our irrelevance is brutally forced upon us, or we discover we're of no consequence or importance. God shows us how important we are to him by sending his Son to be our Saviour, our food of eternal life, even greater than the sustenance we might get from our winter cross-flowering vegetables.
We might appear to be like a canola seed hidden amongst many in a field bin out in the centre of a distant paddock. But just as God knows every grain of sand on every beach, and every hair on every head, he knows you and every seed in every field bin and silo.
And Jesus is the unlikely tree in which we can perch, just as the birds perch in the branches of the mustard bush. No longer do we, like Peter and John Mark, have to be like birds that steal seeds from the sower and take flight to conceal our guilt and shame. We can take our stand in the tree of life, the unlikely tree lifted up outside Jerusalem, on which our Lord was crucified and let God grow his cross-bearing flower of life in us so we might be the seed he harvests on the last day.
See so you perceive, hear so you understand, that you might continue to turn and be forgiven. Amen.