In the Name....
A farmer was sent to jail for theft, and his wife wasn't very good at farm work, so, she wrote to him asking when she should plant potatoes in the field behind the house. The farmer wrote back: "Honey, don't dig up that field. That's where I hid the money." Well, the sheriff read the letter and rushed out to the farm, but, after two full days of digging, he didn't find anything. The farmer then wrote to his wife: "Honey, now is when you plant the potatoes."
In 1990, when the Hubble space telescope was launched into orbit, it was discovered it contained a flaw which caused its pictures to be out of focus. The flaw was an error in the curvature of the parabolic mirror. It was off by 2 micrometres - less than a human hair. That may not seem like much, but, without the exact parabola the telescope could not accurately focus light and explore the mysteries of the universe. To solve the problem, what amounted to very expensive eyeglasses had to be flown up and attached to make it work properly.
Now, the word “parable” is related to the word “parabola,” and both have the root meaning of “reflection." The parable and the parabola both reflect light and reveal truth. Both make it possible for us to see things which would otherwise escape our attention. As spiritual Hubble telescopes, Jesus’ parables bring the sometimes distant Gospel into focus and reveal mysteries of faith which we are then invited to explore. And, like the images from the Hubble, parables often raise more questions than they answer, but, in helping us raise the right questions, they focus us on what it is we really need to know.
At first glance, Jesus' parables seem to be ordinary, everyday stories. They're about everything from seeds and shrubs to lost coins and unfair employers. Nothing very unusual, even for people today, to hear. Yet the parable always draws us on to new and deeper understandings, just as the ones we heard this morning.
Today, we were told, the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. We were also told the kingdom of God is like a man who sat and watched as the seed he sowed became the grain for harvest.
Now, what did those tell you about the kingdom of God? Seriously. Well, on the face of it, they don't tell me very much at all. Our modern world of high-tech and megabytes often finds parables frustrating. We want to know what something “is”, not what it's “like.” Give me facts, not comparisons. But, the thing is that the kingdom of God never “is.” It is always “like” because it's not something that can be observed and measured like a star or planet. It is something which is only discovered within a relationship, our relationship with God. And this morning's parables focus on that relationship in ways we may find surprising.
For example, it is sometimes portrayed, and we may have heard this, that the parable of the mustard seed is about us, and its meaning is that we humans have the potential to achieve a fabulous future no matter how humble our origins. That has a certain cultural appeal to us in America, the land of opportunity. But, Jesus said this parable is about the kingdom of God, not Man. The mustard seed isn't us; it's the word of God which is planted within us.
We're not the seed in this parable, we're the soil, the soil which nurtures the Word and allows it to flourish. And just as the nutrients and water in the soil, indeed the very soil itself, become part of the plant, so we become part of what the Word becomes in us. The relationship between the seed and the soil is the meaning of the phrase "losing ourselves to find ourselves." Yes, we indeed have the potential to achieve a fabulous future from a humble beginning, but, only as part of the life of something else. It's not about changing our careers; it's about changing our being. It's about finding our life in God's life.
And the other parable of the farmer who sits and watches the seed grow reminds us that this growth is natural, inexorable, and beyond our control.
With the help of microscopes and other scientific tools, we know a great deal about what's inside a seed and what happens when it germinates and sprouts. But, for all that knowledge of what and how, nobody has ever been able to explain "why" the seed does what it does. And, if we can't answer that about a purely physical process, how much more should we be in awe when we consider growth as a spiritual process.
God's sowing of even the tiniest seed begins something in us. God's Will is that the seed He has planted in us becomes something great and wonderful and that our lives become one with His.
Oh, we can affect how it turns out. We can, as Jesus said in another parable, be like soil which is rock hard, or soil which is shallow, or soil which is never weeded, and in each of those cases, he said, the seed didn't achieve its full potential, but, in each case the seed tried to grow regardless of the soil and that's a key reason some people feel very discontented within themselves, very unhappy with their lives, because they're trying to stop something from growing in their souls. They're trying to fight back against the life that God wants them to have. And, at the end of the day, that's a recipe for insanity.
The parables in this morning's Gospel are calls to recognize that God has both a general Will for the way we should live and a specific Will for the things we should do as individuals and that to experience both of these we just need to step back, stop trying to control everything, and let the seed within us transform us into the kingdom itself.
We may or may not perceive that growth. We may or may not know how, or what part, we have become of the kingdom. But, we will know that, as St. Paul said in our other lesson this morning; we are making it our aim to please God. Making it our aim to please God. And when we do that, the kingdom takes care of itself.
Yes, God always knows the right time to plant mustard seeds - and potatoes.
In the Name...