Sermon Seeds: Seed

Sunday, June 16, 2024
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost | Year B
(Liturgical Color: Green)

Lectionary Citations
1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13 and Psalm 20 • Ezekiel 17:22-24 and Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15 • 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17 • Mark 4:26-34

Focus Scripture: Mark 4:26-34
Focus Theme: Seed
Series: Here I Am: Listening (Click here for the series overview.)

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

Do you know how to plant? Those who plant, farm, or garden well develop patience and an understanding of the growth process. They know what plants thrive under certain conditions and which do not. Sometimes, they experiment in order to produce the right mix of nourishment from sun, soil, and rain to facilitate flourishing. They may be experts at one type of plant and dismal at caring and cultivating another. They may have a real affinity for a plant that simply cannot thrive in their climate or on their land. Every environment has plants that can grow in it from the alpine trees that make their home on Mount Everest to the prickly pear cactus of the desert to the algae, coral, and phytoplankton of the deep ocean. Even Antarctica has hair grass and pearlwort.

Those plants occur as natural and evolutionary processes bring forth life tailored to its environment. Nature is contextual, and those plants need not be planted by the conscientious and meticulous effort of human innovation. They reproduce and replicate themselves. Like many debates of nature versus nurture, the answer is not either/or but rather both/and. Is that what Jesus means when describing the kindom of God using the metaphor of scattering seed on the ground?

Context matters, and how the original audience heard these words within the conditions of their lives is particularly important for such a pointed reference:

Producing a harvest at the level Jesus describes would have been a life-changing event for the masses that listened to him. Those gathered were more than likely dispossessed landowners or day laborers whose lack of employment and/or land enabled them to wander the countryside following Jesus (St. Clair, 105). They were ensnared by debt for their entire lives. The burden of Roman taxes, Jerusalem tithes, and the money required to seed the land and take care of a family left many people living at a subsistence level. The result is that those who had land often lost it because of debt. Those living on the land as tenant farmers could never earn enough to buy the land they worked. However, a harvest of thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold meant not only the difference between life and death but also freedom from a debt system that kept them in financial slavery (Myers, 177).
Racquel Lettsome

This text does not explore a shift that will lead to a nicer yard or produce a more bountiful crop. The fruit produced by these seeds will be revolutionary, transforming lives for generations, and dismantling systems of oppression. Those in bondage will be set free. Abundance will replace scarcity. Liberation will become normative. This is the power of the good news contained within seeds that are scattered so that they may grow at will. This is jubilee, the era of God’s favor unleashed from the forces that have dampened, sabotaged, and thwarted the reign of God on earth. It begins with a seemingly innocuous seed, but within that seed contains the promise of the kindom of God.

The parable popularly known as “the seed growing secretly” (4:26–29) is unique to Mark, although there is an echo of the final verse in the Gos. Thom. 21.8–9: “Let there be among you a person who understands. When the crop ripened, he came quickly carrying a sickle and harvested it” (R. Miller 1994, 309). Mark’s introductory formula explicitly relates the parable to the reign of God: the reign of God is like . . . (Mark 4:26). This parable contains many of the same elements as the sower parable: a [hu]man who casts seed on the earth, seeds that sprout and grow, and a threefold pattern, first a stalk, then a head, then full grain in the head (v. 28). This parable emphasizes the earth’s capacity to bear fruit on its own (automatē), through divine and not human causation (Hultgren 2000, 387; cf. Acts 12:10; Josh. 6:5 LXX), while the [hu]man sleeps and rises, night and day (Mark 4:27). This ordering of the farmer’s activities—“night and day” rather than “day and night”—seems peculiar to the contemporary Christian reader yet reflects a Jewish context, where the new day begins at sundown. The harvest scene in v. 29 parallels the abundant yield of the seed sown on good earth in vv. 8, 20.
Mary Ann Beavis

In teaching, Jesus used parables extensively. This was particularly prevalent in the Markan account. Many of those teachings that employed analogous references to illuminate complex subjects centered agrarian metaphors. In part, the audience would have familiarity with the symbols represented in the stories in a way that contemporary audiences may not. Beyond that, these metaphors that incorporate the earth, land, and its bounty remind the reader of the breath of creation, the creative process, and the call to participate in continuing creative acts. Creation is not contained to a couple of chapters in Genesis. Creation is the ongoing work of being, growing, producing, tending, harvesting, and planting again. Rather than a one-time event, it is a cycle of life that enables one seed to produce an innumerable harvest…with or without human participation.

What then is the role of the scatterer? In this particular parable, the human does not sow but scatters seed. Sowing is more ordered with specific expectations. Scattering is more organic and less defined. Both contain hope for flourishing. Sowing assumes the ability to project and predict a certain outcome. Scattering trusts that the result will be beneficial and fruitful even when we do not control it. Scattering recognizes that creation has its own agency in its formation. Scattering seeds takes faith to another level of trust in God’s willingness and ability to take our efforts and produce something wonderful, miraculous, and kindom-extending from it.

While the “[hu]man” proceeds in 4:27 with the normal rhythm of human living, “sleeping and rising, night and day,” the “seed” proceeds to “sprout and grow,” but the [hu]man does not know precisely “how” the seed grows. This accords with the biblical background of the parable, according to which agricultural growth happens through the creative power and activity of God (Gen 1:11-12); but the activities and “ways” of God are essentially beyond human comprehension (Isa 55:8-11). Not even Jesus as the “[hu]man” who scatters the seed/word knows exactly how it is that God brings about the growth of the seed/people “on the land” who receive the seed/word through Jesus’ preaching and teaching of the gospel of God’s kingdom.
John Paul Heil

Many interpretations of this text focus on the one who scatters seed as one who preaches the gospel and teaches the word. While those interpretations remain valid, they may also be limiting application of Jesus’ message. When we affirm the ministry and priesthood of all believers, we also recognize the expansive nature of the call to Christian discipleship. The call is for all to sow and scatter seeds in our living and breathing as we actively trust the Holy One with the outcome.

Scattering is not passive; there is expectation that something will happen even when we do not understand how or why. The key is knowing Who. The One who calls us and invites us to be agents of continuing creation. The One to whom we respond, Here I Am.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
Oh, some of us “loved” her. The Maginot Line. And Cholly loved her. I’m sure he did. He, at any rate, was the one who loved her enough to touch her, envelop her, give something of himself to her. But his touch was fatal, and the something he gave her filled the matrix of her agony with death. Love is never any better than the lover. Wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly, stupid people love stupidly, but the love of a free man is never safe. There is no gift for the beloved. The lover alone possesses his gift of love. The loved one is shorn, neutralized, frozen in the glare of the lover’s inward eye.
And now when I see her searching the garbage—for what? The thing we assassinated? I talk about how I did not plant the seeds too deeply, how it was the fault of the earth, the land, of our town. I even think now that the land of the entire country was hostile to marigolds that year. This soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live. We are wrong, of course, but it doesn’t matter. It’s too late. At least on the edge of my town, among the garbage and the sunflowers of my town, it’s much, much, much too late.
—Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

For Further Reflection
“A seed neither fears light nor darkness, but uses both to grow.” ― Matshona Dhliwayo
“Deep in the secret world of winter’s darkness, deep in the heart of the Earth, the scattered seed dreams of what it will accomplish, some warm day when its wild beauty has grown strong and wise.” ― Solstice
“Every seed has a story, but only the ones that make it from the ground get to tell theirs.” ― Eduvie Donald

Works Cited
Beavis, Mary Ann. Mark (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011.
Heil, John Paul. “Reader-Response and the Narrative Context of the Parables about Growing Seed in Mark 4:1-34.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 54, no. 2 (April 1992): 271–86.
Lettsome, Raquel S. “Mark.” Gale A. Yee, Ed. Fortress Commentary on the Bible: Two Volume Set. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014.

Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection
This sermon series invites us to explore the call to Christian discipleship and to examine our response. In particular, invite the local church to consider the (over) emphasis on numbers as the only measure of fruitfulness in ministry.

Worship Ways Liturgical Resources

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (, also serves a local church pastor, public theologian, and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page:

A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.