In the Lectionary

June 17, Ordinary 11B (Mark 4:26-34)

My Western side longs for more activity in this parable, but I'm trying to listen to my Eastern side.

Within minutes of redefining the meaning of family (Mark 3:3–35), Jesus tells the crowd around him his first parable, the parable of the sower. Then, drawing his disciples aside, Jesus interprets it: the seed is the word falling on different types of soil that prove either barren or fruitful. Here the sower’s choice of where to sow is critical. The sower stands at the center of the parable.

Jesus then goes on to tell another story. He says: “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how . . . But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Compared to the parable of the sower, this story receives little attention, perhaps because it is difficult to know if it is a new parable or simply a continued interpretation of the first. Yet I am struck by how different the two are. In this week’s story, it does not seem to matter where the farmer sows or what he does afterward. Indeed the human role is relatively inactive, unless you count sleeping and dreaming as part of the process of growth. Night and day, the seed grows while humans sleep. The soil, not the human, is the silent but active partner in the seed’s growth.