One of the things I love most dearly about Jesus in the Gospels is his earthiness.
As Christians, we’re sometimes tempted to make this God stuff a bit fussy and pretentious. We occasionally lapse into a piety that lacks authenticity. Or we think faith is all about contrition rather than gratitude and joy.
Then we read the Gospel again and discover a God who rejects false piety out of hand.
Because who could invent a savior who would launch his public ministry by creating a plentiful supply of great wine for a wedding celebration where everyone has apparently already had a libation? Let the party continue. Let God permeate our reality and come to live with us in our world.
When Jesus talks to the fishermen of Galilee about fish, I understand. I spent a good deal of my life in Alaska, where fish abound. My imagination loves to find Jesus cooking fish on the shore and waiting for me to recognize him as my boat draws closer.
And Jesus’ frequent mention of sowing seeds reminds me of my childhood farm, where chickens roamed freely and cats gave birth in the barn loft to feral kittens so plentiful we seldom gave them names.
The gritty realities of life are never far from a farm. The same roosters who gave chase to chickens in the barnyard would eventually be butchered by Mom, wielding a very sharp knife and giving a meaning to “cooking from scratch” that is way beyond what I’ll ever do.
So when Jesus talks about the sower, I think he had a pretty good grip on the realities of digging in the dirt.
People often joke about how much farmers worry. We need rain. But then, we bemoan that the fields are too wet to plant. We dread hail and drought. A farmer watches the price of grain with more concern than most of us watch the bathroom scale. A farmer can tell you what corn is selling for in Chicago on any given day. The nagging question a farmer ponders: Should I sell or should I hold?
So, it’s with a sense of peace that I read Jesus’ descriptions of the sower in Mark. Jesus describes the man who scatters “seed on the land” (Mk 4:26). Even when the man is asleep, the seed is sprouting and growing. Miraculously, with seemingly little effort from the sower, growth appears.
“Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear” (Mk 4:28).
Now, those of us who garden — or farm — will insist there’s more to it than that. Our cucumbers will languish without water. My husband gives himself a backache weeding. We fertilize, we compost. We labor long after the seed has been planted.
Of course, Jesus is talking way beyond growing delphiniums. He’s telling us to rest easy and know that what we do in this life — those metaphorical seeds we plant — are really not all about us. They’re in God’s hands, and in God’s good time.
Jesus is comparing the fields to the kingdom. When I think of the seeds I’ve sown, my part in the kingdom, I think of my children. How did I do? Could I have done better?
Jesus tells us not to worry. Don’t pretend you have too much control. Don’t spent time in regrets or “what ifs.”
Prepare your soil, continue to sow, to witness, to make the earth ready. But God is master of the seed that mysteriously germinates in the dark earth. Give God control of your life.