The images in today’s readings take me back to primary school – planting a bean seed in a jar and watching it grow over days and weeks, and planting lemon pips that never grew into plants.
Jesus gives two pictures of what the kingdom of God is like. The first is the seed growing, not in a jar where its progress can be checked, but secretly underground, completely independent of the farmer who planted it. Nothing he does can make any difference to it: it’s still growing even when he’s asleep. He just has to wait until the first shoots appear, and then wait some more for the ear of wheat, and then wait some more till the full grain is in the ear and then he can harvest it.
The second is the transformation of the tiniest seed into the tallest shrub: the mustard seed that looks so insignificant when it’s planted but grows into a great tree, like the one described in the first reading, big enough for its branches to provide shelter to the birds of the air.
Farmers have to work hard, in all weathers, but most of all they have to patient, to trust that what they have planted will spring up and bear fruit. Jesus tells these stories and says ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like’.
Most of us are not very patient or very trusting. We look around at our lives and our world and think, ‘What is God doing? This is not working. This is not what the kingdom of God should look like. Why is it taking so long for good to triumph?’
Jesus used lots of different images to describe the kingdom of God, all making different points about it. The point of these two images is to encourage us so that, like St Paul in the second reading, we can be ‘always full of confidence’. These parables invite us to trust that, however hidden and small, God’s kingdom is growing, night and day, while we’re awake and while we’re asleep, and that, when it breaks through, it will be great and glorious, bearing fruit and providing shelter for all.