24. September 2018

Sermon on June 17th, 2018

Frank Moritz-Jauk

Parables, seeds and mustard seeds                Mark 4, 26-34

Dear community, today we have read two parables. The parable of the Growing Seed and the parable of the Mustard Seed. And we heard in the first reading of the anointing of the young King David. This gives me a wonderful opportunity today to address this question in my sermon: Tell me, what is the purpose of a Likeness? Is it so clear – what we mean by that? And with comes, the question that we all have already consciously or at least unconsciously asked, ‚Why does Jesus use parables when the interpretation, their interpretation, is then reserved for the disciples? Is a parable understandable on its own or does it have to be explained first? Years ago, I even dared to ask this same question in a course with Manfred Marquard, a well-known theologian and former professor at our Theological College in Reutlingen. And the sound of the slap in the face I can still remember well: he answered analogously: Yes, what else? Are you really that stupid that you did not understand that? Of course, a parable is self-explanatory, otherwise it would not be a parable. (?!?) I was too shocked at the answer to respond, but I really did not get it. If a parable explains itself, then why is it interpreted to the disciples? Admittedly, with the parables heard today, it is a little easier to get an idea of what is ment. We get a consept what Jesus might mean when he compares the kingdom of God to a grain of wheat or mustard seed. But let us remember the parable of the sower, that many of us know too: a farmer sows. And when spreading the seeds some grains fall on the way, some on rock, some under the thorns and some on good ground. How should the listeners of the time, how should I recognize today, that this means the word of God? How would I know if I could not read a few verses later? The good Manfred Marquard did not explain that to me. Only now, after reading the commentary by Walter Klaiber, do I get any idea of what might possibly be meant. Klaiber describes two modes of action (or effects) of a parable. The one effect is that one thing (aspect) – in our present case the Kingdom of God- is made clear with a picture to the everyday life of the listeners of Jesus. Many of the people Jesus was in contact with and with whom he had lived, were peasants. Farmers as we say today. The parables are thus aids to understanding. And because they work with images that people know and are familiar with, they are persuasive. What do I mean by that? Jesus does not speak aloof about theology with all the necessary foreign words such as hermeneutics, soteriology and eschatological imminent expectation, but he speaks about a grain of wheat! A grain that produces a stalk and then ears of corn in which the mature corn is to be found. So Jesus wants to get people to trust him. Because if they trust him, then they may be able to understand in a very fundamental way a difficulty: that this ‚really human being‘ Jesus, at the same time, is really God’s Son (Son of God). This brings me to the second mode of action. Whoever believes that Jesus is more,(that Jesus started God’s end-time work), will see more in his parables than simple nice
agriculture,horticulture stories. But that’s the whole point, where even today the Spirit divides/divorce. Those who do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, to give just one example, will not give His words the weight as someone who believe exactly this, will give. So perhaps we can explain why the interpretation and interpretation of the parables is reserved for the disciples. Because even though they were not fully convinced in the story of the parables, (and who Jesus really is), at least their vocation and life decision showed more confidence. More Simply: Maybe or probably the disciples did not fully understand who Jesus is until the Resurrection and the Pentecost. But that Jesus is a very special-real person, that they have already understood and felt. Otherwise they would probably have stayed at the lake catching fish! They would not have given up their jobs and left their families if they had not believed that Jesus was special. And I think that’s why, that’s why Jesus exposes them to the parables. I mention this as a small intermediate step, before I move to the substantive interpretation of the heard parables: Parables have two modes of action.

Jesus speaks in a language and with images that the people of his time understand. So he builds their courage to trust- thus people have confidance to trust him, Jesus. If people trust Jesus, then they can take even more from his parables. Then the seed to the word of God or the mustard seed to the crop will provide protection for all. So let’s get to the content part. What can we gather from the parables that we heard today? Let us look again at the first parable: „With the kingdom of God it is like a farmer who has sowed the seed on his field. He goes to sleep, he gets up again, one day follows the other and the seed sprouts and grows – like, he does not know how. “ Of course, this process has left no peace for man. Of course, today’s researchers and agricultural engineers know a great deal more about the behavior, germination and development of a seed. But even today’s researchers cannot take a seed and say exactly how many grains it will produce. 76? 84? or only 54 grains. God knows how many grains it will actually be. Luther is said to have said, „When I drink my Wittenbergish Beer with Magister Philip, the gospel runs.“ This interpretation is to be understood as consolation for the proclaimers of the word of God. We all sow words. Words of encouragement, the call to repentance or comfort. But what counts and how it actually changes people and makes them believe and trust God is something we do not have in our hands. We cannot „make“ the deciding factor, that is God’s work. He, God, causes the seed to rise and bring good fruit. Sometimes thirty times, sometimes sixty times and sometimes even a hundred times. Our pastor in Linz, Martin Siegrist, now ‚Obermeir – Siegrist‘ since his marriage, who is also the head of the children’s and youth work of our church has stated: „You see that the children and young people come to the city meetings. And that it will be good (for them) then is our business. “ I have been thinking for some time that this is one of the most important tasks that we, all of us together, are to exercise or seek: to create places and opportunities to encounter the Gospel. Whatever they look like, but we should sow. Finally, let us look at the second parable: the parable of mustard seed. This parable has always caused frowning among botanists and people who know a little about nature: a mustard seed is supposed to become a tree? The mustard seed is not the smallest seed on the earth. I say: worthy prosecutor, dear judge, dear jury: granted. Yes, the mustard seed is not the smallest of all seeds, for example, orchid seeds are even smaller. And yes, the botanical genus of the tree is not reached with a mustard seed. In fact, the black mustard seed, brassica nigra, weighs about 1mg and can grow up to 300cm in length, which then surpasses most garden plants. Except for the Styrian beetle bean or hops, which are known to grow much higher, but only with scaffolding. But let us leave the botany and ask: What does Jesus want to tell us, with his parable? I believe Jesus wants to point out that from a very small seed something can become much larger than it seems at first sight. It’s about a tiny beginning and a huge ending. Not for nothing is the parable of the mustard seed in Matthew and Luke together with the parable of the Sourdough (or Leaven): Here, too, a very small amount of sourdough causes the whole dough to rise. What is also striking is that the mustard seed is not about the harvest: it’s not for human consumption, but „that the birds, of the sky, can nest in it‘. A beautiful picture that compares the kingdom of God with a hospitable place where there will be room for all. A place of protection, where one can live well. I summarize this content briefly again: Our job is to sow. That the Kingdom of God develops is God’s work and mystery. From the small, the inconspicuous, the weak, great things can happen.

God’s kingdom, which is mentioned in both parables, has already begun. It is not finished yet, but it can often be discovered on a small scale, in mustard seeds. And we can certainly ask ourselves, if then Love is something small or something very big. Amen.