Mark 4:33-34- “And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples. NKJV
Mark states that Jesus taught many parables but that He taught them as they were able to hear them. In chapter 4, there are several parables that Mark shares with us, but only one is exclusive to the gospel of Mark, the parable of the growing seed.
And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”Mark 4:26-29 NKJV
Interestingly, a man would scatter or throw seed on the ground with no care about what was happening to the seed or if the seed ever took root. I must admit that this parable has troubled me all week, hence my delay in posting. Maybe I am overthinking, or looking too hard for a meaning that makes sense because everything I read about farming goes against this strategy of planting seed. However, during Jesus’ day, this technique was used for planting of crops, causing a huge problem for weeding, or taking care of the crop.
Most commentaries believe that this parable is about spiritual growth. Even as such, I have a problem with this. The seed was representative of the word of God in the first parable, and now it’s representative of my life? It doesn’t make sense to me. Yet, Jesus said that this is how the kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.
In my mind, the seed is everywhere or all over the place. The person who scattered the seed goes through life, sleeping and rising, yet the seed is growing. Although the man doesn’t know how it is growing, first the blade, then the stalk, then the corn comes forth. How is this the workings of a great farmer?
Jesus didn’t say that this was a farmer but it could easily have been. He lets us know that He is referring to the kingdom of God. He said that the kingdom of God is “as if a man would scatter the seed.” How would we think of this parable if we thought of the kingdom’s growth and not the individuals of the kingdom? Maybe Jesus was trying to get us to see that the kingdom of God would be growing in places that didn’t make any sense. After all, why would He spend His time amongst the outcasts of society? Or why would He be interested in forgiving a woman caught in adultery? Better yet, why would He spend time by the seashore talking to the regular people and not the Jewish scholars? Because seed is being scattered!
Crowds were following Him everywhere that He went. Some followed Him for food, some for healing, some for entertainment, and some for a longing in their soul. Instead of getting rid of the insincere or the thrill-seeker, the seed was scattered amongst them all.
Then growth started happening! First, the blade grew out of the dark place of the soil as He called for His twelve disciples. Then as believers began to be added to the kingdom, it grew and grew until it was ready for harvesting. Such is the kingdom of God! In this agricultural atmosphere, as mentioned earlier, you would have to wait until harvest to separate the crop from the weeds. When Jesus returns, He promises to do just that!
This understanding of the parable makes sense if we look at the verses to follow:
Then He said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.”Mark 4:30-32 NKJV
Again, Jesus is referring to the kingdom of God. I can imagine Him addressing the crowd, His pupils, and seeing the puzzled expression on their faces as He shared the first parable. For all of them would know that a farmer wouldn’t scatter his precious seed and then give no attention to it. Or would they? So, as He takes in their countenance and can see that He has lost them, He changes tactics.
Hum, to what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? At this point, maybe He spies a mustard tree or a member of the crowd with a basket full of mustard seeds. Maybe He realizes that a mustard tree will work for His point and help them see what He was saying! Either way, He likens the kingdom to that of a mustard seed!
He says the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. When it is sown into the ground, it is smaller than all seeds. However, after the seed grows, it grows into a large tree with many branches. Isn’t that descriptive of the kingdom of God. It started with Jesus. He announced from day one that He had come to proclaim the kingdom. He was the only member of the kingdom. It was most definitely the smallest of kingdoms. But as it grew, it grew into a large tree, the largest of the herb family, with many branches. It has a lot of branches, but the birds nest and seek shade under the branches.
Had Jesus been talking to us, He would have continued with a confused crowd. But Jesus isn’t talking to a crowd of non-Jewish individuals, He’s teaching a crowd of Jews, and this makes sense! Let’s look at an Old Testament scripture that they would have been familiar with:
“These were the visions of my head while on my bed: I was looking, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great.Daniel 4:10-12 NKJV
the tree grew and became strong; Its height reached to the heavens,
and it could be seen to the ends of all the earth. Its leaves were lovely, its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, the birds of the heavens dwelt in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it.
Daniel’s vision was of a great empire. In Ezekiel, there are similar references to a great tree that is symbolic of a great empire. This is language they would have understood. Nations that found themselves under the care of the great tree were like birds that nestled in the branches. Again, a reference they would have been familiar with.
Jesus was telling them that the kingdom of God was starting small but would someday be a great empire that nations would find protection and safety within it. Isn’t that the case of the kingdom of God? Many nations are blessed because they acknowledge the King! America is one of those nations!
Certainly, we can look over the world today and see the expanse of the kingdom! It’s a forever kingdom that will never be dominated by another ruler, for our King is the greatest king ever! He truly is the King of kings, and He rules over nations, and there is no end to His reign!
As Jesus continued His ministry of teaching, He taught in parables. We’ll come across a few of them. But just as Jesus wanted His disciples to understand them as He taught, He wants us to understand them. I trust this different perspective, at the least, helped you to have a greater appreciation for the kingdom of God. Wonderful Jesus!