In olden days farmers would sow seeds in their lands and then simply wait. When a crop was ready they would reap it, using a scythe (a “blade”).
A whole process then had to follow. The neighbors would gather with a farmer at each step, to help. They would collect each other’s crops into stacks, or “pooks” as they were called, so that by counting pooks each farmer could know how much grain to expect from his harvest. Threshing came next—separating the husks and straw from the grain—followed in the older cultures by “winnowing,” which detached the heavier grain from the lighter chaff.
Here is how an Irish friend of mine explained it to me, as we drove around Ireland. By chance it matches the first parable Jesus tells in this Sunday’s Gospel:
A farmer would …
sleep and rise night and day,
and through it all
the seed would sprout and grow,
he knows not how.
Of its own accord the land yields fruit,
first the blade, then the ear,
then the full grain in the ear.
The grains were tiny morsels at first, but at the last, they presented a massive display, poised for harvest. The farmer and his friends modestly worked along with this mysterious process.
Jesus says this parable is about the kingdom of God. But he does not explain how.
It recommends modesty, for sure. We Christians must arrange ourselves humbly and trustingly, like the farmers, while the mystery takes place within our souls. And of course we need to “detach the husks and straw from the lighter chaff.” This would mean pulling ourselves away from distractions and fascinations that drag us away from who we are meant to be. Distractions such as impressing others, winning all the time, using God’s name in vain, criticizing people … fill out the list.
But the Holy Spirit of God plants seeds in our souls and quietly begins their growth. Followers of Christ must let the seeds grow at their own rate, and then go on to the next step only when they are ready. Our job had been to prepare the land, which is us, and then see the result that happens “of its own accord.”
In a second parable, the quiet status of a seed is apparent. Jesus says that the mustard seed is the smallest and humblest of all the seeds on earth. (In fact it was not, so I am told. Smaller still are the petunia, the begonia and orchid seeds.) But nevertheless, the tiny mustard seed, the size of a pinhead, unassumingly grows to be a great big shrub or even a tree that is taller than a man’s head.
So are we to be humble in a similar way. The Spirit’s plantings in our souls will seem exceedingly tiny, even unnoticeable. Our humility—like the farmers’ with the seeds— means waiting, or in other words, being patience. We are fallow lands. We must be ready and anticipating for something greater than ourselves, something the Spirit bestows.
This means that the “largest of plants” will not be you or me, but God—present in our lives and in our communities. Since God is great and to be loved above all things and within all things, since God is taller than a man or woman’s head, so to speak, then he is large enough to found our greatest plans or hopes.
Let us be fallow.