Monday, November 20, 2017

Gardens grow at night

26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come” (Mk 4:26-29).

i) This is a deceptively simple illustration. What does it mean? It maybe that Jesus gave the listener a thumbnail sketch that can be developed in more than one direction. It's up to the listener to responsibly fill in details.

ii) Who is the sower? Or does that matter? Some people think the sower is God or Jesus. But it makes no sense to say God/Jesus doesn't know how the kingdom grows and does nothing beyond scattering seed to promote its growth. 

Probably, the sower stands for pastors, missionaries, and evangelists as well as Christians generally throughout the course of church history. They scatter seed, but the results are ultimately out of their hands. In many cases the results outlive them. Or may not become evident until after they die. 

iii) That the sower "rises night and day" is a Jewish idiom for rising at sunup and sleeping after sundown. In Jewish reckoning, a new day began at dusk rather than dawn. 

iv) Does automate mean "by itself" or "without visible cause"? In one respect it was mysterious to ancient farmers how a seed was programmed to develop on its own. 

Presumably, Jesus doesn't mean to teach that the kingdom grows with no human contribution. Evangelism is essential to the growth of the kingdom. Normally, it prospers from watering, weeding, pruning, fertilization–both literally and figuratively. 

Sometimes Jesus expresses himself in deliberately provocative, contrarian terms to shake up the complacency of the listener and galvanize attention. 

He may mean, in part, that it grows despite opposition. In addition, the kingdom grows in ways surprising. We scatter seed, but when and where it takes root and grows to fruition may unexpected. Take birds that pick up seeds, then drop them elsewhere. 

The growth of God's kingdom is mysterious in the way God's providence is mysterious. Sometimes we can discern the hidden hand of God from opportune, but highly improbable events. Naturally inexplicable outcomes that reflect God guiding events from behind the scenes. 

v) The seed grows at night as well as day. Ironically, the kingdom sometimes grows because hostile forces are oblivious to the kingdom in their midst. They don't know where to look. Their social circle excludes believers. Consider atheists who confidently say there's no evidence for miracles. They don't experience miracles or know anyone who does because they associate with like-minded atheists. They avoid the very circles where that's more likely to happen. Like plants growing at night, it could happen in their own backyard, but they wouldn't observe because they are in the dark (as it were). And by the time it becomes so conspicuous that even they take notice, they've been overtaken by events. 

Indeed, many atheists have a secularization thesis. They take for granted the inexorable progress of atheism. Christianity is bound to die out. Every generation, they say that's just around the corner. So they're often caught off-guard by unforeseen developments. 

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