As a very young boy I stood one day and watched as my dad planted a small patch of mielie pips (maize seeds). One by one he carefully dropped the seeds at spaced intervals, into the long furrow he had made.
I was intrigued by the colour and shape of the seeds and understood that plants grew from seeds. However, another thought suddenly came into my young mind. How did my dad know which way to place the seeds in the ground so that the plants grew right way up? I asked him, thinking he might explain to me that it has to do with the shape of the seed or something like that, but he teasingly said he just knew. I checked on that little mielie patch every day waiting to see how many would emerge right way up. I can still remember clearly after all these years, how very impressed I was with my clever dad, as every single plant emerged right way up.
My favourite parable
Smilingly, I now think back on that incident, with the slight irony that by profession I am today a botanist. I have a passion for plants and their seeds intrigue me. It is therefore no wonder that the story of the sower and the seed in the Bible is a favourite of mine. The parable of the Sower and the Seed is probably one of the better known stories in the Bible. It is found in Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8.
The basic story is about a farmer sowing seed. In those times, there were no mechanised planters and it would take forever to try dropping one little seed at a time into rows and rows of long, narrow furrows. Fields were first prepared and then seed for crops like wheat would be sown by taking a handful at a time out of a shoulder bag and flinging them across the land. It was to be expected that at times some seed would fall on hard ground, some on pathways or unprepared ground and some on rocky areas. Jesus explains the parable to His disciples and says that the seed is the Word of God (Luke 8:11), or in other words, the seed is the word of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 13:18-19). Interestingly, Jesus does not say whom the farmer represents.
Firstly, it is important to understand that at some stage all parables break down. That parable is not meant to be dissected, interpreted or stretched beyond breaking point. Too often this is what we tend to do. In any case, Jesus Himself explains the meaning of the parable that God’s word (which could be both Jesus Himself or the Gospel) will be accepted sometimes and rejected other times. But here are a few points that intrigue me, as a botanist, when it comes to seed.
Why such abundance?
Firstly, a plant produces tons more seed than is necessary for ensuring the survival of the species. Evolutionists will tell you that this is the sole purpose of seed. However, a lot of energy goes into producing seed. Why not conserve energy, so that you can survive to try another day, just in case the entire seed crop fails? For me part of the answer is in the nature of God.
God is great, almighty and so loving that He always showers us with more blessings than we could possibly handle or deserve. Maybe God just lets something of who He is, be realised in plants. For example, grasses produce so much seed and bless many bird species by giving them free food. Keep in mind that grass is pollinated by wind, and grass receives absolutely zero benefit or payback from these little winged creatures.
The thought is, if we are the farmer and the seed is the word of God, how freely do we ‘produce’ this seed and how freely do we spread it and give it to others? What about those who don’t benefit us, let alone know us or even like us? Do we put energy into multiplying God’s Word and spreading it generously? Do we sometimes just figuratively, throw it into the wind as a blessing to anyone nearby, or to anyone it may land on?
Yes, as with the seed that landed on hard ground, it may not grow, or it may just be lost. But, think of all the seed that landed on fertile soil and grew and produced beautiful plants and more seed. Most of the seed the farmer sowed in the parable grew and was profitable, for him as well as for others.
Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 9 about serving others. In verses 6-12 he says that whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly; that God loves a cheerful giver. That Jesus Himself scattered abroad gifts to the poor, to those who were in need. Verse 10 is insightful, where it says that “He who supplies the seed to the sower,” will be with you, that our service “is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” (verse 12). Do we sow generously or sparingly? Are we a real blessing to others?
We don’t know exactly
I used to give workshops to farmers on how to improve the quality and yields of their crops. The crux of the matter is that there is no one single factor or ‘silver bullet’ to achieving a quality, abundant crop. In the end the farmer had to make sure that the environment necessary for the seed to grow was just right. The soil had to be fertile, enough water had to be given at the correct times, there had to be the correct temperature and the correct amounts of sunlight. However, the amazing thing is that as a farmer you can do all these things, but in the end, as I always would tell them, ‘It is God who makes the seed grow, not you.’ Botanists nowadays know a lot about plants and seeds, yet in truth, we still do not know exactly how and what makes that little seed suddenly germinate and sprout.
Besides the parable of the Sower, Jesus tells another short parable about the growing seed. In Mark 4:26-29, Jesus says that a man scatters seed, but he doesn’t make it grow, because, as far as I as a botanist am concerned, it is impossible for us to make it grow. The amazing thing is, as Jesus says in the parable, that even when the man is sleeping the seed is busy growing and that by itself (not by or because of the man). “All by itself the soil produces (or brings forth) the grain.”
Without seed this world would cease to exist and we would all be dead. We as Christians have been given seed we did not pay for, nor earn. Go out and sow it generously, lovingly and freely. Oh yes, and don’t worry, I can assure you it will sprout the right way up. Ask my dad.