Father Koch: A Simple Seed Stands as a Powerful Symbol of Transformation

June 14, 2024 at 1:21 p.m.
Getty images.
Getty images.

Father Garry Koch

Gospel reflection for June 16, Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

After his confrontation with the scribes from Jerusalem, and the questions raised even by members of his own family about the nature of his teaching and his mission, Jesus begins to use parables as his primary means of teaching. Parables were not new to his Jewish audience, as it was a common didactic tool for the rabbis. While the basic themes of the parables will remain constant – Kingdom of God, reconciliation, exercising good work, etc. – the images will vary broadly. A parable is meant to draw the listener into a deeper understanding of the nature of things, but they are particularly focused on the works of God, and the relationship between God and the created order. They are unlike myths or simple analogies both in context and content. They are simple and easy to remember, though the layers of meaning they convey can be very complex. Everyone who hears a parable can easily repeat them. From the simple seed parables, we hear in Mark to the complex character developed parables we hear in Luke, they are simple to remember and repeat.

The Kingdom of God parables in Mark’s Gospel reflect a transformation in the style of Jesus’s teaching, and an expansion of the basic themes of his mission. He opens this section with the parable of the mustard seed.

Although a botanist can explain the intricacies of seed germination and plant growth in great detail, the entire prospect of that which is essentially not alive can, under ideal conditions, become the source of a living plant is a beautiful mystery. The ability to develop farming techniques and to learn how to plan and orchestrate plant growth remains one of the most transformative moments in human history. It is not a surprise, then, that Jesus would employ such rich agrarian images in his parables as he introduced his teaching on the kingdom of God. A simple seed planted and nourished can feed a family, and in faith, transform the world.

The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.

The Galilean farmers of the first century cultivated mustard plants, which typically grow very rapidly and produce pods which are both ground into mustard and also used to grow more shrubs. Mustard seeds are small indeed, and their quick growth lent itself to this parable from Jesus.

While we can often reflect on the simplicity of the movement from small to large, how the Kingdom of God will grow quickly and from small beginnings, there are other ways to view this parable.

Jesus is drawing his audience into a deeper sense of mystery. While many nations around them, and especially as we think of the sophisticated farming techniques used by the Egyptians even two–thousand years before Jesus told this parable, the residents of the Galilee were much less adroit farmers. The whole process to them remained mysterious. They did know the difference between the wild and the cultivated plants, and both kinds of mustard did grow in the region. However, they were limited in some ways by the Mosaic Law that forbids mixing different kinds of plants together in the same field. In this way they avoided hybridization and cross-pollination.

A field was sown with one kind of seed, usually simply scattered, with the hopes that they would take root.

The Kingdom of God works in a similar way. We scatter small seeds of faith, moral teaching, the practice of prayer, adoration, and worship through our families, parishes, and schools. We do not know why some take root and others do not. We do not know why some germinate quickly and others take a long time to grow. Then, the surprise comes. A person of faith emerges where no seed was ever scattered. Sometimes it is the majestic beauty of the plant itself that is inspiring to others.

And so the mystery – the Kingdom of God grows as it wills and remains beautiful even in the midst of the desert that surrounds it.



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Gospel reflection for June 16, Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

After his confrontation with the scribes from Jerusalem, and the questions raised even by members of his own family about the nature of his teaching and his mission, Jesus begins to use parables as his primary means of teaching. Parables were not new to his Jewish audience, as it was a common didactic tool for the rabbis. While the basic themes of the parables will remain constant – Kingdom of God, reconciliation, exercising good work, etc. – the images will vary broadly. A parable is meant to draw the listener into a deeper understanding of the nature of things, but they are particularly focused on the works of God, and the relationship between God and the created order. They are unlike myths or simple analogies both in context and content. They are simple and easy to remember, though the layers of meaning they convey can be very complex. Everyone who hears a parable can easily repeat them. From the simple seed parables, we hear in Mark to the complex character developed parables we hear in Luke, they are simple to remember and repeat.

The Kingdom of God parables in Mark’s Gospel reflect a transformation in the style of Jesus’s teaching, and an expansion of the basic themes of his mission. He opens this section with the parable of the mustard seed.

Although a botanist can explain the intricacies of seed germination and plant growth in great detail, the entire prospect of that which is essentially not alive can, under ideal conditions, become the source of a living plant is a beautiful mystery. The ability to develop farming techniques and to learn how to plan and orchestrate plant growth remains one of the most transformative moments in human history. It is not a surprise, then, that Jesus would employ such rich agrarian images in his parables as he introduced his teaching on the kingdom of God. A simple seed planted and nourished can feed a family, and in faith, transform the world.

The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.

The Galilean farmers of the first century cultivated mustard plants, which typically grow very rapidly and produce pods which are both ground into mustard and also used to grow more shrubs. Mustard seeds are small indeed, and their quick growth lent itself to this parable from Jesus.

While we can often reflect on the simplicity of the movement from small to large, how the Kingdom of God will grow quickly and from small beginnings, there are other ways to view this parable.

Jesus is drawing his audience into a deeper sense of mystery. While many nations around them, and especially as we think of the sophisticated farming techniques used by the Egyptians even two–thousand years before Jesus told this parable, the residents of the Galilee were much less adroit farmers. The whole process to them remained mysterious. They did know the difference between the wild and the cultivated plants, and both kinds of mustard did grow in the region. However, they were limited in some ways by the Mosaic Law that forbids mixing different kinds of plants together in the same field. In this way they avoided hybridization and cross-pollination.

A field was sown with one kind of seed, usually simply scattered, with the hopes that they would take root.

The Kingdom of God works in a similar way. We scatter small seeds of faith, moral teaching, the practice of prayer, adoration, and worship through our families, parishes, and schools. We do not know why some take root and others do not. We do not know why some germinate quickly and others take a long time to grow. Then, the surprise comes. A person of faith emerges where no seed was ever scattered. Sometimes it is the majestic beauty of the plant itself that is inspiring to others.

And so the mystery – the Kingdom of God grows as it wills and remains beautiful even in the midst of the desert that surrounds it.


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