We bought our tomato plant months ago. It’s not summer without sliced tomatoes sprinkled with a little salt and (because of my grandfather) with a dab of Miracle Whip. For as long as I can remember, regardless of where we were living our family has grown tomatoes each summer. A few months into the tomato season and I’ve got not tomatoes.
The lectionary readings for last week and this week have me thinking about growing plants. Using mustard seeds and a sower sowing seeds, Jesus points towards the Kingdom of God using language his audience would have at least been familiar with hearing.
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field” – Matthew 13:24
“He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches." – Matthew 13:31-32
When was the last time you used a mustard seed? Me? I use ground mustard seeds when making my family’s secret meatloaf sauce.
When was the last time you sowed something? Wild oats? Seeds?
Jesus uses language about seeds and growing and frankly, I’m having a hard time tracking with what he’s saying. You’d think after nearly a decade in seminary I’d be following along just fine but when it comes to Jesus and his seeds the tomato plant (and basil, I just check that one and things aren’t looking good) tell me I should’ve paid better attention to first-century agricultural practices.
I can’t blame the tomato plant (or basil) for my inability to effectively sustain their growth. I could set an alarm on my phone, reminding me to water and rotate the plants each evening. I could outsource this task to my son and then blame him.
I could blame the lack of growth on the Virginia summer. There are a lot of ways to spin my inability to effectively sustain plant growth but at the end of the day, I’d be doing what we do best in DC - spinning a positive tale on a negative reality.
In each of the parables, Jesus told he was using earth examples to point a biblical truth. The truth in the parables is that when we look to the Kingdom of God we are looking beyond our own abilities and shortcomings, refocusing our attention on the possibility present in Jesus. The Kingdom Jesus spoke of is beyond our ability to grow on our own. No matter how much we water, rotate, till, or fertilize (maybe I should fertilize the tomato plant) of efforts always fall short. It’s no fault of our own. The Kingdom of God is God’s to inaugurate and that is where the Grace of God in Christ steps in, on our behalf, when our efforts fall short.
I don’t know what will come of our tomatoes. Lucky for me there is a farmer’s market in Westover every Sunday morning. There are others whose watering, tilling, rotating, and fertilizing expertise far out exceed my own. And then there’s the work done on my (our) behalf by God in Christ and through the Holy Spirit. Every time I attempt to advance God’s Kingdom on my own, God is ready to step in and correct my missteps or better yet, take over when my expertise lacks or is non-existent.