As an experienced gardener, people often ask me what to plant, because they want a guarantee of success in their garden. I can rattle off a list of plants that are likely to do well in our local climate, but as a gardener, I know that I only control a part of the process. I can prepare the soil, use healthy plants that are well-adapted to local conditions, and provide care to nurture the plant toward growth. But I can’t make a plant grow. I also can’t impact the weather during the growing season.
Knowing the risks for each small plant, I am still committed to gardening, and I am often rewarded with yummy tomatoes and beautiful flowers. I am diligent in the aspects of gardening that I can control, and I am ever hopeful for the parts out of my control.
Analogies of gardening and spiritual growth abound. It is one metaphor Jesus used that is familiar in our modern experience. In the Gospel of Mark, right after the more familiar parable of the sower in Mark 4:1-20, there is a short parable about seeds:
He also said, “This is what the Kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:26-29).
The Kingdom of God is all about growth—lavish, abundant, unexpected growth. We have little control over the growth, but we are tasked with sowing seeds generously.
If you follow the instructions on a packet of seeds, you might carefully and judiciously dole out the seeds in a row. The implication from the parables is that we are to scatter spiritual seeds with abandon—expecting that we will be surprised with the increase. Certainly areas with good soil will produce higher yields, but the sower seems rather reckless with the seeds in Jesus’ stories.
We are also reminded of how little control we have over the outcome of our sowing in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6).
The conclusion that we have little control over the mystery of growth doesn’t mean that we have no role. We sow and water; we hope and pray. Then we give God praise for the harvest.