Sunday, August 18, 2013

Gardening in the Kingdom

When I was a kid growing up in Santa Clara, California, I would plant a vegetable garden every year. It was a habit I probably picked up from my Italian immigrant extended family. I still have memories of my grandmother picking squash in her own backyard garden in San Jose.

The first step was to turn the soil and break up the clods, maybe adding in some old grass clippings as mulch. Then I would make rows and mounds with furrows and moats for planting and watering. Then I would plant the seeds (no seedlings from the nursery back then). Zucchini squash, Italian cucumbers, Indian corn, string beans, tomatoes, carrots and maybe a watermelon. I would always plant radishes because they were the fastest growing and gave me a sense of hope early on.

All through the summer, I would water, weed, thin and pick off the amazingly plump tomato worms.

And of course, the most amazing of all experiences came at harvest--the reward for all the hard work.

"This is what the kingdom of God is like. A person scatters seed on the ground..." (Mark 4: 26).

Jesus ministered in an agrarian culture. So it is not odd at all that he so often uses farming to illustrate kingdom principles. The Sower and the Seed, The Wheat and the Tares, and here, the Patient Farmer.

This parable, however, makes it seem like the farmer hardly works at all. "Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, although he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain--first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head" (Mark 4: 27-28).

The kingdom principle is this: the life of the kingdom is in the seed itself. The farmer's job is merely to sow the seed. God's job is to then cause the life inherent in the seed to do its thing. In Jesus' time, there was no irrigation or fertilization. The farmer could not make the seed grow any faster by brooding over it, or holding his breath, or gritting his teeth.

Then, when the proper time came, and the life of the kingdom inherent in the seed produced what it was designed to produce--harvest time had come. And now the farmer goes to work again.

"As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come" (Mark 4: 29).

Kinda makes me want to become a farmer. Except that we all know that farming is not that easy.

The kingdom principle that Jesus is teaching is this: the Gospel that we are sowing has the life of the kingdom within itself and will produce fruit if we will trust it. As Paul says in Romans, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes" (Rom. 1: 16a).

God has called us all to become farmers in His field. Our job is to sow, water, weed, fertilize and tend in that garden. His job is to cause the life of the kingdom to work as a result.

And when that life begins to produce fruit, we get the joyous chance to put in the sickle and feel the joy of the harvest.

How's your crop doing?