Twelve Pints. That’s how many blueberries my husband and I were receiving every week one summer when we signed up for a local farm’s CSA (community supported agriculture) subscription.
Our freezer was stuffed to the gills. Our friends were sick of us foisting blueberries upon them every time we saw them. We had consumed enough blueberry smoothies, blueberry muffins and blueberry pastries to last a lifetime.
Despite having more blueberries than we could handle, the process of filling our bellies with the produce of the local land was simultaneously gratifying and tasty. This practice kept us grounded in the natural world around us and reminded us to keep our eyes open for the ways in which the land around us was sustaining us.
Coming out of this experience, I read many of Jesus’ parables with new eyes. There is agricultural imagery everywhere.
The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-9) points to the losses in the growth process and the correspondingly shocking surpluses of a good harvest.
The Parable of the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29) highlights the mystery of growth.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mark 4:30-32) emphasizes the surprise of a small seed resulting in a large plant.
Jesus tells his audience that these stories from the natural world illustrate something about the kingdom of God. In other words, in trying to explain the complex theological realities of the kingdom, Jesus turns to the land around him for the best possible illustrations.
The land, in turn, suggests several characteristics of this kingdom.
1. The kingdom of God is extravagant.
The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-9) offers the best illustration of the kingdom’s extravagance. The sower casts seed indiscriminately. Contrary to the subsistence existence of many in Jesus’ peasant audience, this sower is so certain of success that caution proves unnecessary. Despite what might seem like the most insurmountable setbacks, the harvest wildly exceeds all expectations. Just as the sower’s seeding was over the top, so too is the yield.
2. The kingdom of God is unexpected.
The Parable of the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29) points to the unexpectedness of the kingdom. The planted seed silently and secretly begins its journey of growth under the surface of the earth. Hidden in the depths of the soil, the seed needs no assistance from the farmer in growing into a full-fledged plant that is harvested for food. The farmer does not know how such growth occurs, only that it does.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mark 4:30-32) offers a similar lesson in surprises. The tiny mustard seed on its own appears unimpressive. Yet, once this small seed is sown, it exhibits an astounding capacity for growth such that it even provides shelter for others in its ecosystem.
3. The kingdom of God is present.
All these agricultural metaphors point to the proximity of the kingdom. While this characteristic might not be as obvious as the others, it underlies all these parables.
The kingdom is not some far-off reality. It is as close as the dirt between our toes and the crops in our fields.
Jesus does not preach a kingdom accessible only to the trained scholars who can sniff out intricate theological nuances. Jesus preaches a kingdom that the farmers in the fields and the laborers on the land can access.
As we enter the summer season, the kingdom of God is as accessible to us today as it was to Jesus’ earliest audiences.
With every juicy strawberry we bite, the essence of the kingdom of God flavors our tongues.
With every plump tomato we pick, the extravagance of the kingdom feels weighty in our hands.
With every growing stalk and creeping vine, we are reminded of the rootedness of the kingdom in our midst even now.
While I struggled to handle 12 pints of blueberries a week, the extravagance of this harvest reminds me of the kingdom Jesus preached. Like the blueberry crop threatening to explode from my freezer, the kingdom of God is packed full of the fruit of the Spirit, ready to offer nourishment. May we have eyes to see the abundant harvest all around us.