“And Jesus was saying, ‘The kingdom of G_d is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts up and grows – how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.’” Mark turned expectantly to Rachel, but it was Yiftach who responded first to the parable.
“So Jesus is well acquainted with the prophet Joel.” Mark lifted an eyebrow. Yiftach laughed. “Oh, don’t think that I am too! I just know those particular words, because I heard them round the campfire up in the hills many times. ‘Put in the sickle for the harvest is ripe,’ Simon loved to recite those words. ‘Come, tread, for the wine press is full; the vats overflow, for their wickedness is great.’ The prophet spoke of the coming judgment of the gentiles – and Simon bar Giora said we were G_d’s arm to bring that judgment.” His eyes took on a distant hue as he continued. “’You are not mere farmers,’ he told us. ‘You are G_d’s soldiers. Did not the prophet Joel also say, “Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears”? You are the instruments of G_d’s judgment!’” Yiftach’s companion’s eyes flashed and his muscles tensed as the words echoed across the courtyard.
Mark’s voice carried softly across the gathering. “Jesus may have been alluding to the prophet with those words, but does the parable sound like we are the ones to bring G_d’s judgment with our actions – whatever they are?” Rachel spoke into the silence that greeted his question. “No. We just sow the seed.” She turned towards Yiftach. “You’re a farmer. Can you make the seed grow? Can you make it rain? Can you make the sun ripen the grain?” Yiftach held her gaze for a long moment before shaking his head. “It seems that Jesus is saying that the kingdom is growing, but not through any work of the sower.” “Indeed,” said Mark. “But that does not mean the sower is uninterested, or has nothing to do but wait for the coming harvest. We tend the crop, we watch for the day of harvest, but it will come in G_d’s time. Listen.”
“Jesus said, ‘How shall we picture the kingdom of G_d, or by what parable shall we present it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, yet when it is sown, grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade.’” Mark turned back to Yiftach.
“Look around the courtyard. What do you see?” Yiftach did so briefly, a look of confusion spreading across his face. Mark continued, “Do we look like a mighty tree? Or like the smallest of seeds?” Yiftach maintained his confused countenance. “Let me put it this way. Who are those Romans out there most likely to feel threatened by – our gathering, or Simon’s forces holed up in the Temple?” Yiftach’s companion snorted derisively. Yiftach made to respond, then paused. Finally he said, “In truth, neither.” His companion turned to him with a look of astonishment, but Yiftach held Mark’s gaze. Mark nodded slowly before speaking, his eyes sweeping the courtyard as he did. “The mystery of the kingdom is that it appears weak and insignificant – both then, in the person of Jesus and today, in his communities – but one day it will surpass the mightiest kingdoms of earth, for it is concerned with G_d’s sovereign action, not our own.”
Miryam pushed herself up from her seat to speak. “Yiftach, you spoke earlier tonight about ‘the way things work.’ Those with power and wealth thrive, while the majority of your family and friends struggle to survive. That disparity is taken for granted – and enforced at the point of a sword when challenged. You believe that the solution is to take up the sword yourself.” “That’s right!” called out Yiftach’s friend. “I’ve beaten my plowshare into a sword, and G_d will vindicate us when the battle joins!” “And then what?” asked Miryam, gently.
Her response momentarily stunned the young man. “Why, we will have a king like David on the throne of Israel once more, and his kingdom will be everlasting!” “A kingdom won at the point of a sword is just one more chapter in the myth of redemptive violence. Do you truly believe such a kingdom will be more just, more righteous than any we have yet known? That is the very opposite of the meaning of Jesus’ parable. The growth of the seed that is sown is G_d’s work, not ours. We are not to try to provoke the harvest, but to concentrate on sowing. Jesus may have alluded to Joel in his parable, but his whole life alluded to the prophet Isaiah’s vision of the kingdom: ‘They will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war.” Her voice strengthened as she finished by saying, “Take courage my friends – we may only sow tiny mustard seeds, but G_d is responsible for what grows from our work. Take hope that one day G_d’s kingdom will come in its fullness, and the injustice and cruelty and despair with which we live will be overturned once and for all.” Her eyes found Yiftach’s again, and he held her gaze for a moment before looking away. Mark stood once more.
“With many such parables Jesus was speaking the word to them as they were able to hear it; and he did not speak to them without a parable; but he was explaining everything privately to his disciples.” He looked around the gathering for a moment before concluding, “May we prove to be those who are able to hear it…”