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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 4:26–34  

He 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. (NRSV)

This past year, I took our daughter out to plant vegetables in a community garden near our home. Together we broke the ground for the first time and peered into that miraculous world of small but significant things. As I held out my hand with several different plant seeds in it, she looked at me rather incredulously when I told her that these little specks would one day turn into the berries and vegetables she is fond of eating.

Jesus in this parable speaks of the kingdom of God—what I often call God’s Beloved Community—as a tiny speck of a mustard seed. First-century Middle Eastern ears would have heard that as a sign of humility, for the inauspicious seed of what was commonly known as the black mustard plant can grow into a shrub as high as ten feet. It is also a plant that thrives in rugged conditions, capable of growing wild like a weed. There are several agriculture metaphors that relate to the kingdom, but none quite like this one. Perhaps Mark’s Jesus wanted to offer a fresh reminder that in times where political powers like Rome or Greece appeared as impermeable as the tall cedars of Lebanon, God’s Beloved Community—though small—was ever-rising. Imperceptible at first, over time it would blossom into a resilient and thriving instrument of God’s ultimate redemption. This type of community cannot be managed like a vineyard or manufactured like steel; rather it must be nurtured by God’s Spirit.

Is there a place in your life where you question whether God is truly at work? Might progress or success seem too small to be significant? If so, Mark’s parable is a call to remember and trust the mighty work God can do with our humble efforts.

God of grace and glory, who in Jesus lifts up the lowly and shows us salvation in the small and humble, help us trust that the work you have begun in us, through the promptings of your Spirit, will indeed bear fruit in our lives and the life of this world. Amen.

Written by Joseph L. Morrow, Minister for Evangelism

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