4:26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground,
4:27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.
4:28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.
4:29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
4:30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?
4:31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth;
4:32 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.”
4:33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it;
4:34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
A Question or Two:
- Why does Jesus use agriculture to talk about the reign of God?
Some Longer Reflections:
This week a single phrase has caught my ear: “The earth produces of itself.”
The actor in the parable dumps seed on the ground. “Scatter” sounds too technical, too much like a National Geographic special on television with skilled farmers sowing seed in carefully tended fields. The word in Greek is βάλλω, and that word just means “throw.” It implies a heedless act.
Joseph Sittler, an amazing preacher and interpreters, suggested (now many years ago) that “dump” is the best translation. I think Sittler was correct. It could be that the person is indeed a skillful farmer, but the storyteller uses a word that treats the sowing as “dumping,” essential an act that has nothing to do with having a good crop.
Of course, any farmer knows that it makes a great difference how you plant, but the storyteller is aiming our eyes at all that we DO NOT know. And good farmers know that this list is long. In this case, the storyteller focuses on just one thing: the seed grows, “he does not know how.”
Martin Luther agreed (Luther, M. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesammtausgabe 120 vols. [vol. 19, p. 496]. Weimar: H. Böhlau, 1883-2009): if you could understand a grain of wheat, you would die of wonder. My father was an Ag teacher, and from him I learned to hear the wonder that any good farmer has in the face of the ordinary miracle that attends her everyday work.
All of that sets the background for the sentence that caught my ear.
The earth produces of itself.
The Greek for this sentence is: αὐτομάτη ἡ γῆ καρποφορεῖ. The final word, καρποφορεῖ, means “bears fruit,” which is the essential act on which all life depends. My father taught me to understand that the more you understand about agricultural fruitfulness, the more you are embraced by wonder. The words before that wonder-full word are ἡ γῆ, and they mean the earth, picking up the Greek root that becomes part of the word, “geography.”
It is the first word that matters most. The word is αὐτομάτη. “Of itself” is a good translation of this word, but it misses something. The word, transliterated, is “automaté.” That is the word from which the English word “automatic” comes.
Stop and think about that for a while. The ordinary earth produces automatically.
Jesus says that this is a good image of the reign of God.
But that means that the miracle of the reign of God happens automatically: Creation produces it of itself.
Stop and think about this VERY slowly. We have invested barrels of theological ink in insisting that the reign of God is an external reality separate from us and our world. God has been presented as entering the world (some truly unfortunate praise songs picture it as an invasion), but the storyteller has Jesus say that all this happens from WITHIN Creation.
The reign of God is like this: the earth produces it of itself.
This might change everything.