Both are parables in the truest sense. They mess with our usual ways of thinking about things and leave us perplexed, scratching our heads, if we hear them carefully and take them seriously. They remind us that God's ways are not like our ways and they call us to think the way God does.
The first of these is sometimes called “the seed growing secretly.”
Simply put, almost no one would think about a kingdom as being merely “scattered” like seed on the ground. Kingdoms don’t “just happen.” Kingdoms are exercises in sustained organization and all kinds of human effort. When we think of God as King, we tend to translate the idea of God’s kingship looking like the kingships of the world—sustained and growing by means of force, planning, and diligent effort.
Yet here, Jesus says God’s kingdom is nothing like that. It is planted. It grows organically. Fruit emerges. There is little planning or effort we do or even God does to bring about its result—an inevitable and abundant harvest. What may seem random, hidden in the earth, and even of little significance ends up becoming sustenance for God’s new world.
Here is a deep lesson for disciples of Jesus to learn. We do not build God’s kingdom. At most, we scatter its seeds, just as Jesus is doing from the boat calling back to the folks on land. Then we watch and bear witness to what God does with it over time. Whenever harvest comes, we go in and reap. The kingdom, like the random seeds, has its own logic for growth and fruitfulness.
The second parable is even more bizarre.
A huge nuisance?
An interrupter and interferer with what we actually want?
Reproducing and multiplying despite our best efforts to stop it?
All these and worse, doing exactly what mustard weed does (but not really khakibos) ... attracting the “birds of the air” which in Scripture is often a metaphor for people “not like us,” ... to nest in its branches (you might remember the picture I used two weeks ago when I suggested the church is meant to be like a salad which contains many different ingredients). And of course, when the birds do that, they eat the seed and spread it even more.
Bad enough that the kingdom of God seems to grow in ways we can’t predict or understand. But now Jesus teaches the crowds and his disciples that God’s kingdom happens in ways that most of Jesus’ own contemporaries, including his disciples, and maybe including some of us, if we hear him as they did, may only experience with some feeling of disgust.
Messy, noisy, disliked, irritating, taking over, unstoppable as mustard weed (or khakibos): This is what the kingdom of God is like. No fancy parades or “mission accomplished” banners unfurled. Just ongoing persistent undercurrents that transform the world.
If we’re to be disciples of Jesus, prophets and proclaimers of this kingdom, we’d better learn to get used to that and so, in following in God's way, have our spiritual senses re-tuned so that that which might normally provoke disgust in others becomes for us the way of justice and joy. We need to become comfortable with the strange ways by which the kingdom is planted and the messy ways by which it spreads.
And this has some implications for what it is we think we’re trying to build or accomplish in our ministries in Christ’s name and the Spirit’s power. We may be more scatterers than establishers. Our work may be more to send out some kind of seed that may grow later than “nail down a solution” that “fixes” a particular problem. And our work may best be evaluated by what it subverts, and by mess and noise than by longevity or perfection.