I remember someone in my theological eduction talking about the need to 'wrestle with the scriptures' to really get under the heart of what they mean. I am really having to work hard to understand really what Jesus is saying.
The passage is from Mark 4:26-34. Jesus is teaching about the Kingdom of God. Jesus says that the Kingdom is like a man scattering seed. Now I don't know whether I am reading the passage wrongly, but in my mind at least there is definately a difference between scattering and sowing. Sowing to me implies a careful, deliberate, placing of a seed or seeds in soil that has been prepared. It is about maximising the potential yield of an expensive commodity - the seed.
Jesus here though tells us that the man scatters the seed on the ground. He goes to bed and wakes up in the morning to find the seed sprouting. The man is clearly astonished. He does not understand the biology of what has gone on - he doesn't understand how these seeds have grown.
The we seems to get a bit of a gardening textbook, '...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...’ The man scattering seed may not understand how the seed grows but he does know when to harvest - only when the grain is ripe and full.
What is Jesus trying to say? Jesus talks of God's Kingdom - God had been worshiped as king by Jews for millennia. Talk of a coming Kingdom would normally carry with it images of political and military power. Yet Jesus seems to say that God's kingdom comes with no pomp or power. Rather it appears, almost surprisingly, as if from nothing - something as insignificant as some seeds scattered randomly on the ground.
The when the kingdom starts to grow - the outcome, the results are visible and tangible for all to see.
Jesus goes on... the kingdom is like a mustard seed - the smallest of seeds which grows into a bush big enough for the birds to nest in. Mustard seeds are not the smallest nor do they grow to be the biggest trees. Although Jesus' ministry doesn't seem to amount to much at this stage, there will be a time when it would have a huge universal following.
The parable might be loaded with symbolic imigary - the birds nesting in the tree might symbolise a powerful nation gathering other people under it's sway - as in Daniel 4:10-12. There will come a time when the nations will gather under the wing of a renewed Israel.
Alternatively, Jesus could be meaning wild mustard - a persistant weed that is impossible to erradicate once it has infested a field - so is the strength of the faith of the persecuted. Similarly, like wild mustard can infest a field and threaten the livlihood of the wealthy who live off the work of the poor cultivators. The weedlike reign of God pose a real challenge to modern living and those who benefit most from them.
The kingdom of God is powerfully coming, but almost as if from nothing. As it does so, it will turn on it's head the usual enconomy of power in the world. It will work against the wealthy and powerful to the benefit of the poor and needy in society. It will begin small, but will ultimately draw all people in.
How does this impact us here, today? it has more in common with the creeping, quiet dissent in the corridors of the Palace of Westminster right now. It's almost like, whatever we do, almost perhaps in spite of and our faith (or lack of it) God will bring His kingdom to fruition where He wills it - not just in Pancake Lane. Or perhaps put another way, we so often try to control God - we don't do 'that' we're Anglican/traditonal/Broad church/ whatever... God will quietly and powerfully work amongst us by the power of His Spirit, unsettling us, challenging us to grow in faith to fruition.