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I don’t know about you, but I am impatient about a lot of things these days.
I can’t tell you how ready I am for COVID 19 to go away, so we can get back to normal life.
I also can’t wait for people in our country to start getting along with each other. Americans live in the greatest country in the world, but you couldn’t tell it for how much we complain.
I am thankful that I am not part of American life that has to choose between paying their utility bill or for food.
If someone gave me a blank sheet of paper and asked me to write down a solution to these difficult problems, I wouldn’t know where to begin.
However, I am still impatient over finding answers to these very pressing problems.
First Century Israel and America
The United States is quite different from the Israel of Jesus’ time. We are the world’s super power, while they were continually subjected to the interests of various foreign governments for centuries.
We are more prosperous than any country in the history of the world. First century people in Israel lived hand-to-mouth, with hunger as a daily reality.
What Americans have in common with people in Jesus’ day is a longing for change and an impatience to get there.
Jesus possibly drew the largest crowds of anyone in his day. There were times when 5,000 people came to hear him and receive healing from his ministry.
When he said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1.15), we can be certain that they rejoiced at the news of the presence of God’s kingdom.
Like people today, they believed the presence of God’s Messiah or Anointed One would change their world.
They connected Jesus’ powers with the presence of God’s kingdom. Jesus said, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you” (Matthew 12.28).
Wasn’t it reasonable for them to believe that if Jesus could cast out demons, he would also remove the evil Roman empire from Israel?
On one occasion Jesus fed 5,000 people and at another time he fed 4,000. This was a picture of rich banquets that were to accompany God’s loving rule and care for his people.
Yet, at the end of the day, not much changed in daily life for the vast majority of people in Israel. Yes, Jesus had his followers, but their numbers were few and the effect of his work touched only a small population of Israel.
Their question was, “If the kingdom of God is present, why do we see so little change in our lives?”
Like the Jews of Jesus’ day, we would like the presence of God’s kingdom to make a bigger difference in our world.
People who are part of God’s kingdom seem to be as easily infected with COVID as anyone else. We are just as divided and antagonistic toward each other as is the rest of society. In addition, many are struggling with personal economic issues.
We may join people who lived centuries before us and say, “If God’s kingdom is present, why does it seem to have such a small impact?”
Jesus Answers with a Parable
For every person over the past 2000 years who has longed for the hardships of life to change through the presence of the kingdom of God, Jesus told a short parable.
He said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4.26-29).
What exactly did Jesus want impatient people like me to know from this parable? A quick analysis of Jesus’ words will help us understand what he taught about the kingdom of God.
— The first stage of the kingdom of God is the scattering of “seed” on the ground. The presence of Jesus signaled that God’s kingdom had arrived in the world.
— The last stage of the kingdom is the end-time harvest. The image of the “sickle and harvest” comes from the Prophet Joel.
Joel wrote, “Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe” (Joel 3.13).
The Book of Revelation used the image of a “sickle” for events at the end of the age. “Another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to the one who sat on the cloud, ‘Use your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is fully ripe'” (Revelation 14.15).
— We are currently living in the middle stage of God’s activity. Like the growth of a plant that is being produced by the action of the sun, rain and earth on it, so is God’s kingdom growing.
Jesus told this parable to encourage impatient people like me. Whether we can see it or not, God and his kingdom are active in history. He is moving events toward the fulfillment of his plans and purposes, even if he is not working on my time schedule and with issues that concern me.
For people like me who want the kind of change that the kingdom of God will bring, James gives this counsel.
He wrote, “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near” (James 5.7-8).
Are We to be Passive?
Does the parable of the Growing Seed and the wisdom of James indicate that we are to wait and do nothing at all? Clearly, human activity will not hurry the final acts of God’s rule. He is in control of the future.
However, balance is needed as we consider our role in God’s kingdom.
A parable makes one point about God’s activity, but it is not a complete treatment of God’s will. We must take into consideration other words from Jesus about the kingdom of God.
Among many other things, here are two examples of expected behavior by Jesus’ followers.
(1) Jesus taught people to pray for God’s coming kingdom. We should regularly pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6.10).
(2) Jesus expects us to care for people who are oppressed, vulnerable and lost. He also wants us to pray for more people to join in this work.
Matthew writes, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest'” (Matthew 9.36-38).
These two points are only suggestive of the role we can play. As followers of Jesus, we are citizens of God’s kingdom. A short-hand way of describing our place in the kingdom is that we seek to live a Jesus-kind-of-life.
The point of the parable is to encourage us, when it seems that things are not going well. Underneath the surface, God is at work. He is moving his kingdom towards his purposes.
As part of the process, we are in his care just as Joel told Israel: “But the Lord is a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel” (Joel 3.16).
Let’s be faithful, patient, and trusting of God’s work during this time of stress.
About This Blog
Klyne Snodgrass has devoted 12 years of study to produce the book, “Stories With Intent.” His book is recognized as the best book on the parables in print. I am indebted to Dr. Snodrass’ work that helps shape my articles.
If you have a prayer request, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or private message me on Facebook. I will pray for you and so will the prayer team at Maywood Baptist Church.