6-9-15 - First the Stalk

The realm of God is all about growth, organic, even inevitable growth. That is what Jesus suggests in his short and cryptic parable about the scattered seed: 
“The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

In other translations, this is rendered, “First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn on the ear.” As soon as a stalk or blade is visible popping out of the earth, we can be sure a head will develop on that stalk, and then the full grain will appear. It’s an image of hopefulness, encouragement to believe in the fullness of God’s plan even when we only see the merest trace.

What did Jesus meant by the harvest, though? That sickle makes me nervous. But no cutting, no harvest. I choose to believe that Jesus is speaking about the full cycle of planting, growing and harvesting.

In fact, I’m going to venture an interpretation – hoping it doesn’t get in the way of your own. I think this is a parable about evangelism. The parable just before this, about the sower and the seeds, is about how some of the seeds fell among rocks or thorns or in in shallow soil where the Word of God could not take root and flourish. I believe Jesus is continuing on that theme. I think the seed scatterers are Jesus’ disciples and he is encouraging them that some of the seeds they scatter will sprout, even when they can’t see how the process worked.

This is like the times we invite someone to join us at church or for a special event and they are uninterested, or we talk about how important our faith has been to us in a crisis, and there is no response. Sometimes we retreat, concluding no one is interested in hearing about transformed life in Jesus Christ. But we are not meant to stop scattering seeds, for, unbeknownst to us, some of those seeds are breaking open and starting to grow below ground, even if we can’t see it until a blade or a stalk begins to appear.

This happened to a friend. She invited someone to church “sometime,” only to have that person show up this week, with family – who encountered people they knew whom they didn’t realize were part of that church. There’s a stalk for sure – and soon enough, if the soil is good, an ear will appear and then the full grain. Only then is it time for the harvest, the invitation to a fuller commitment to the Life of God.

In fact, people who harvest grain know when it’s ready. There’s no question about it. When we’re waiting for an outcome in ministry, we can trust that God will make it clear to us, and to that person, when to go deeper.

This image has also been used about healing prayer. Canon Jim Glennon frequently likened prayer for healing to planting a seed of faith and trusting in its growth, even before we see any sign of it. “First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn,” was his mantra, and he urged people to give thanks even before they saw how the prayer was being answered. That is praying by faith.

Are there some seeds you desire to see sprout and grow? Have you seen the tip of a blade emerging yet?

We wait, giving thanks by faith, until faith gives way to sight. That is the way of the seed scatterer in God’s garden. That is the way of the Christ follower growing in faith.

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