Mark – Parable of the Growing Seed and the Fig Tree

Readings for this week September 30 – October 4
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Day 1 – Small Beginnings

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 4:26

From small beginnings big things – unexpected things, miraculous things – can grow. One tiny snowflake can be the final drop onto a mountainside that triggers a massive avalanche. A casual glance at a stranger can lead to a lifetime of married love. We don’t necessarily know where these small beginnings originate, and we cannot always see where they will lead. We do not know which way things will turn out; we cannot always see what type of plant will grow from seed that we may not even know is resting beneath the soil, waiting to grow. In many ways the kingdom of God – like God himself – is unfathomable, unpredictable. It doesn’t arrive in the manner we think it will, and does not develop along predictable lines.

We’ve encountered the parable of the sower and the soils, and seen how the sower sows wildly, across all soils, and how, even though much of the seed is lost and bears no fruit, the harvest of the small amount that fell on the good soil was still overwhelmingly huge. Again, from small, seemingly hopeless – or even wasteful – beginnings, great things can come. The seed is small, but under the right conditions produces so much. We need to make sure we are people who are open to the small beginnings we see around us, the opportunities and experiences and events that, though seemingly unimportant and innocuous, are potential avenues for God’s kingdom to manifest itself around us. We are vigilant, not because we want to control what God does, not because we can plan and predict and guarantee the harvest – we cannot – but because we know that God moves in mysterious, often small, ways that can lead to big things.

Question to Consider
How have small beginnings led to big things in your life?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, give me eyes to see those small opportunities that can be moments when your kingdom springs forth in our midst. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – In Unexpected Ways

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 4:27-28

Things don’t happen the way we necessarily expect. In this little parable Jesus shows us once again the strangeness of the kingdom. Notice how the farmer goes to bed and then gets up, and then goes to bed again and gets up again. His actions mirror the seed’s actions: he is sleeping, just like the seed is sleeping in the soil. And just like the farmer, there will be a time when the seed ‘gets up’ too – when the preparatory work is done, the unknown, unfathomable, secret work of the kingdom is done and the harvest is ready. But, again, apart from the reaping, the farmer does nothing. Through the rhythms of nature and creation God works his purposes; from small, unnoticed beginnings, a great harvest can grow.

The kingdom of God does not arrive in – and therefore does not look like – the form that people expect. What Jesus is doing in Galilee – the picture formed by his words and his actions together – might not look or sound like the triumphant, exile-ending, nation-restoring return of God that people were expecting and hoping for. But actually it is: it is the true seedtime for the promised harvest, a harvest that will seem unexpected and that people will wonder how it happened and where it came from. Like the farmer who doesn’t know how the seed grows, people won’t be able to see how the harvest God has promised will grow from this particular seed. But for those in the know, remaining vigilant, who understand how God works, there is the hope of a bountiful kingdom harvest.

Question to Consider
What seemingly impossible, miraculous, out-of-the-blue kingdom moments have you experienced in your life lately?

Prayer
Lord God, you are the God of the impossible, the surprising, the unexpected. From small innocuous beginnings big things can grow. Help me look for and nurture those small beginnings. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – The Sickle and the Harvest

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 4:29

These parables and sayings that we are looking at follow on naturally from Jesus’ parable of the sower and the various types of soil that the seed can come to rest in. The growth of the good seed leads to the harvest. That is the point of sowing the seed in the first place. For the seed that finds a home in good soil and grows, the harvest is the inevitable outcome. Jesus, through his preaching and teaching of the good news, is scattering seed, seed that will eventually grow up into the new communities of people worshipping and following him. And then, at some, unspecified point, comes the harvest and the sower with his sickle.

This reference in verse 29 is to Joel 3:13. The prophet Joel was heralding the coming Day of the Lord, looking ahead to the time when, after the devastation of suffering by God’s people, he would restore them and pour out judgement upon Israel’s enemies. But, as we have hopefully started to realise by now, this promised moment of judgement and vindication isn’t going to play out in the way that people expect. The parable of the sower showed us that though much of the seed will be lost, the harvest will still be abundantly plentiful. This little parable shows that, though the nature of growth is mysterious and somewhat miraculous, and though we may struggle to understand the workings of the kingdom, the harvest will still come and with it judgement – and both in a manner that will be surprising to many.

Question to Consider
What does the use of seed metaphors teach us about the kingdom of God, and God’s and our role in its coming?

Prayer
Almighty God, continue to teach me through your word what it means to be a citizen of your kingdom. Grow your love in me so that I can be a window to your kingdom for others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – The Fig Tree

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 13:28

In Mark 11 Jesus had cursed a fig tree (for its lack of fruit, even though it wasn’t the season for it) and it had withered up. This cursing and withering had occurred either side of Jesus’ judgement upon the Jerusalem Temple. Now, Jesus uses the image of a fig tree – and we are meant to connect it back to the episode of the cursing of the real tree – to show his followers how they are to be watchful, but also that they are to be hopeful. Yes, the blooming of the tree illustrates how his followers are to look around for the signs of God’s movement in the world. But this is not meant to happen only in a fearful “watch-for-the-end-of-the-world” kind of way. There is also hope.

The point of this parable of the fig tree is to give people hope that, despite all that may be happening in the world and how bad things may appear to be, there is still hope. God is coming to restore his people and judge the nations. God is working his purpose out in the world. This parable links back to the cursing of the fig tree (judgement), but also to the parable of the seed growing in secret (hope). The withering of the tree was a sign of imminent judgement; but now, the disciples are invited to view the blooming of the tree as a sign pointing towards judgement, and also blessing. The fig tree is an apt illustrator of this point as it loses its leaves in winter but blossoms in late spring; when you see leaves on a fig tree, you know summer is near.

Questions to Consider
What signs of hope do you see in the world? Where do see you see God at work?

Prayer
Loving Father, give me hope. Help me see where you are working in the world. May I remember the hope that you have given me; help me share that hope with others. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – The King, the Kingdom, and Us

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 13:29-33

As we come to the end of our journey through the gospel of Mark this year, it is perhaps apt that, rather than finish with the end of the gospel itself (covered at Easter), we finish here with Jesus calling attention to the signs to look out for that will herald the coming of the Son of Man, and encouraging his followers to remain watchful and vigilant, yet also hopeful and kingdom focused. Yes, keep our eyes open to read the signs, to know what is happening when God moves and acts so that we can move where he leads. But do not, as some do, get so focused on the signs that we lose sight of our king and his coming kingdom, and the task he has given us. Though many Christians today interpret these signs solely in terms of some sort of apocalyptic Armageddon in which the earth (and most of its inhabitants, it must be said) are consumed in a fiery furnace and the chosen (very) few are whisked off to heaven, this is not the point at all. There is always hope: for the lost of this world, we are to be that hope.

Throughout the gospel of Mark we have seen Jesus speaking and acting the kingdom into being on earth in all that he has done, through his teaching and his preaching, through miraculous demonstrations of the power of God, through the healing of fractured minds, souls and bodies; in short, through offering the entirety of his being to God in the service of his kingdom and in service to others. This is the King we follow, the King we obey, the King we seek to emulate in all we do – all in the service of his kingdom and in service to others.

Question to Consider
What does working for the kingdom look like in your life?

Prayer
Gracious King, you are Lord and King of my life. I praise and honour you for your grace, wisdom and bottomless love that calls me to live my life for you and for others. Praise your holy name. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)