One of the most challenging things about the teaching of Jesus is not its complexity, but its simplicity. Too often, people have taken things that were straightforward and made them incredibly complicated. Perhaps complex things are more easy to avoid, it can be said that they are hard to understand, it can be said there is disagreement about their meaning, it can be said that Jesus’ words don’t apply to the person’s own situation. Obfuscation, fudging things, blurring their meaning, muddying the waters, becomes an escape from blunt meanings.
In Saint Mark Chapter 4 Verse 26, Jesus talks about the simple roots of what he is saying, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground.” In the time of Jesus to see someone sowing seed would have been commonplace, everyday, it would have been hard work. The Kingdom of God is not as if someone wished to create an aristocracy of people living in fine houses, it is not as if someone wished to create a corporation with smart-suited executives, it is not as if someone wished to create a bureaucracy with accumulations of paperwork, the Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground.
The picture Jesus draws of the Kingdom of God is of a kingdom very different from those with which people were familiar. This is not a kingdom of power and dominance, it is not a kingdom of status and influence, it is not a kingdom of wealth and prestige, it is a kingdom of ordinariness, it is a kingdom of ordinary things. Jesus takes ordinary things and says that they are special. It is easy to miss the special and the beautiful. When people find themselves removed from the everyday and the familiar things of life, by illness or by circumstances, they will say it is the ordinary things that they most miss, we can easily fail to appreciate the things that surround us each day. Jesus says the Kingdom of God is rooted in ordinariness.
Jesus continues in Saint Mark Chapter 4 Verse 27, saying that the sower of the seed “would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how”. There is an attitude of trust, trust because what else is there that one can do except to be patient and to wait? It is an attitude that is in sharp contrast with the way in which many people live their lives. Instead of trust there are plans and targets. Aspirations and ambitions become the things that shape lives and the contentment known by the sower of the seed is lost. Questioned about how he lived so contentedly, he might have shrugged and asked what better way there was to live. Worry will not make the seed grow nor will it make the grain ripen, when the time comes the sower of the seed will gather the harvest.
When we look at the news stories of the impact of climate change, of the pollution of the seas, of the consumption of scarce resources, of the exhaustion of the earth, there is perhaps a lesson in the simplicity of the lifestyle of the sower. It is an ecological fact that we cannot continue as we are, we cannot continue to consume more and more and more, what is more, we do not have to do so. There is happiness in ordinariness.
Jesus challenges his listeners about their attitude. In Saint Mark Chapter 4 Verses 30-31, he says, “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.” There is a challenge to remember their roots, to be radical in the proper sense of that word, that being radical is about one’s roots. Had the origins of the Kingdom of God been remembered, then the history of the last two millennia would have been very different. There would have been no pain nor persecution, no oppression nor wars, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
The parable of the mustard seed is a reminder of the need to retain a sense of perspective. To acknowledge those roots is to acknowledge a need for humility and a need to avoid the attitudes that lead to dominance and violence. Seeing the roots of the Kingdom, we see there is no warrant for much of what is accepted and believed by Christians.
The life of the sower of the seed and the roots of the mustard seed are gentle pointers to the way of peace and contentment.