Inch by inch, row by row
Please bless these seeds I sow
Please keep them safe below
‘Til the rain comes tumbling down.Pete Seeger
It is a very common practice for little kids to plant seeds at school. Depending on the time of year and climate, some lucky seeds get planted in little backyard gardens. (In fact, Janie Piemonte helped three year olds plant some on the EPS playground!) But just as often, little kids plant seeds in Dixie cups, peat pots, or jelly jars.
The seed par excellence for this is not the microscopic mustard seed, but a bean seed. Mung beans are especially good. Buried in dark loamy soil, deluged with water, and set on the classroom windowsill to sprout.
Little eyes and little hands press up against the glass each day to monitor what seems invisible. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Then a little green, a little stalk, a little leaf! Wow! Pow! The miracle of life!
When my youngest was in preschool at Butterfly House, he and his classmates took part in this ritual. Each day when I would pick him up after school, he would walk me over to the windowsill to check his bean plant’s progress. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Then a little green, a little stalk, a little leaf! Wow! Pow! The miracle of life!
And forgive me for repeating myself, when I asked Jacob what the little plant was, he replied “That’s Jesus, mom. That’s Jesus in a jar.”
Now the green blade rises, right?
“And with what can we compare the Kingdom of God?” the Lord asks in the gospel today. And Jesus responds with the parable par excellence. A parable we have likely heard a bazillion times, the Parable of the Mustard Seed.
It is a lovely childlike story. Something almost too small to be seen, a single mustard seed grows into something lush and fruitful and gorgeous — where the birds of the air make their nests. And isn’t that the simple moral of this simple story? Great things can come from small beginnings? Just like David, a simple shepherd boy, the youngest shoot of Jesse’s Tree, who grew up to be Israel’s most beloved king.
Well I might, as well, climb out of the pulpit right now and lead us in the creed. Enough said.
But there is more to the story than this. To appreciate the parable fully, we just about had to be there two thousand years ago. This parable would actually have been very funny to first century farmers. In 2021, however, it requires some translation.
In our 21st century yards, we work like the dickens to keep the grass green and the flowers growing. Depending on how organic we are, we feed and fertilize, mow and wack, pull up the dandelions and nuke the crabgrass. Before the weeds take over like invaders from Mars. Before they take over the whole darn yard.
Well, that is exactly what the mustard plant was — a first century invader, a noxious weed. It would overtake farmers’ fields and destroy their crops. That microscopic mustard seed was the stealth bomber of agriculture. Farmers would tear it up, throw it away, and burn it. But it came back. It would always grow back. Listening to Jesus’ parable, the farmers would be rolling in the aisles with laughter. The Kingdom of God like a mustard seed? That is ridiculous!
But Jesus says yes, inch by inch, row by row, this is how God’s garden grows. This is what the fullness of God’s Kingdom looks like: an overgrown, wild and wonderful, garden teeming with unexpected (and sometimes annoying😊) life.
The kingdom of God is like Kudzu, it can overtake and overwhelm you. Just think about that for a moment. What mustard seeds have taken root in you, consumed, challenged, or inspired you?
Your job, your vocation, your calling?
Your loved ones, your family, your friends?
Your love of neighbor, your passion to help the stranger?
The lilt of a familiar or forgotten hymn?
A Word of God that moves your soul?
The beauty of this fragile earth, our island home?
Mike Zimmerman says it was his desire to help the poor.
An article in U.S. Catholic Magazine tells Mike’s story.
“A second-year law student at Fordham University in New York City, Mike hoped to plant a garden 14 stories up at a church, St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Manhattan.“
“Zimmerman had been volunteering at the church’s Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen when he got the idea of supplying the poor with healthy, organic food by growing it himself. He contacted Paulist Father Gil Martinez, the pastor, who suggested the church’s rooftop as the site for the garden. Zimmerman recruited several fellow law students to help with the garden and solicited donations for soil and seeds.“
“Zimmerman, whose major was agricultural law, wanted others to understand the connection between food and justice. At the soup kitchen Zimmerman saw this contradiction in the processed food the poor were typically served, supplied by a global agricultural system that is intent on producing quantity and profits, and that relies on expensive pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers.“
“’Our garden is not going to feed all these people,’” says Zimmerman, ‘but through local action, we’re showing what we can do to change this food system. This is just the first step toward … learning the skills required to grow fresh, organic food on a larger, more practical scale.’”
“‘The garden delights neighbors in the 42-story condo building that overlooks it,’ Martinez says, ‘but it also delights the people who eat the food.‘”
“’They know that the food is grown just for them,’” says Martinez, ‘and they say our soup kitchen is the best in Manhattan because of that.’”
“Zimmerman’s project wasn’t just altruistic. The native Vermonter missed the lush greenery of home and believed that a garden could help re-energize himself—and maybe others—in the Big Apple. Martinez, a son of migrant farmworkers, agrees.“
“’There’s a sense of touching creation and participating in it through the garden,’ he says.“
“Although Zimmerman is Jewish, he and Martinez are united in the common spiritual tradition of stewardship of the earth, as described in Genesis.“
“Having dominion over creation ‘is about taking care of the world that God has so graciously given us,’ says Zimmerman. ‘And what’s so poignant here is that there is not a lot of open space [in New York City] for us to see God’s creation.’”
Doesn’t this story just make you want to sing?
Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain
Wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain
Love lives again that with the dead has been
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.
The farmers in urban Manhattan, like the farmer in the parable, sleep and rise, sleep and rise, to wake up very morning to work for and witness to the miracle of life. And may we too, wake up each day to tend God’s garden: so that it may bloom and grow and bust out all over the place. Trusting that the tiny mustard seed planted in our souls might yield all kinds of good things more than we could possibly imagine or ask for.
Christ was resurrected for this.
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog