Eric Carle’s book, The Tiny Seed, follows the journey of a small seed through the seasons of fall, winter, spring and summer—across snow-capped mountains, great oceans, vast deserts, and winding fields.
Carle also wrote The Hungry Little Caterpillar, one of my favorites. His stories invite us into beauty, mystery, struggle, and triumph of the natural world. Not only do I think such stories are good for children, but they’re also great for youth and adults. We all need to be reminded that we are all creatures living in a natural world full of fragile, yet incredibly harmonious and balanced ecosystems—each one completely unique. Since we do live in and enjoy the fruits of this natural world, we ought to take the time to cooperate with it, to not destroy it, and to also empathize with all the creatures, great and small, all the plants and seeds, too.
The tiny seed seems like it won’t survive. Each time we turn the page in the story, we’re concerned. Will that fragile, tiny seed make it to the next place? Or will it get pushed out by weeds, eaten by birds, or trampled on by humans? Will that tiny little seed make it?
The message is simple. The tiny seed, though so small and so fragile, can and will make it.
And that tiny seed can make it, even without our help.
And that’s beautiful, mysterious, challenging, and triumphant.
Jesus of Nazareth was quoted by various Gospel writers telling stories about seeds. They were parables—stories with hidden meanings. Sometimes the meaning had to be hidden, because religious and military authorities were afraid of what he was saying. Other times, the meaning was hidden to make a point to his own followers.
In this case, the first parable in Mark 4 is pretty simple, I think.
But very explosive.
The reign of God is as if someone scattered seeds on the ground, and then slept and woke up night and day. Meanwhile, the seed sprouted and grew, and the person who scattered the seeds in the first place didn’t know how that could be possible. For the earth, from itself, produces a stalk, then a head, then the full grain in the head. And when that grain is ripe, it’s time for the harvest.
There’s no controlling the seed. The person who scatters the seeds cannot understand how that grows into a plant. But it just does. And so Jesus was comparing the seed to God’s reign. In other words, that the presence of God doesn’t need us to exist, cannot be controlled or influenced, and is best received as an inexplicable gift.
This raises a major question about faith, because if we take this as far as I think we should, this parable is saying that faith doesn’t depend on what we believe.
What if it is all a gift and not a decision? How would that change the way we think about faith?
Certainly, there are plenty of people who don’t worship on Sundays and may not say that they are “religious” or even “Christian.” What if this parable is saying that we should stop trying to convince them or convert them? What if they, just like us, are part of this natural world where things harmoniously happen and we don’t know why?
What if they are mysteries to be accepted and loved as they are, embracing the “freeness” of a God who works beyond the confines of churches, doctrines, and books?
That first parable is a “wake up” parable.
We want to have control, but control is an illusion in the natural world.
And God’s reign of love and mercy is uncontrollable.
The second parable follows one of the tiniest of seeds on its journey—the mustard seed.
It is invasive, it grows wildly. Just when you think it’s gone—it is there.
Again—there’s a lack of control in this parable and sense of wild freedom.
Birds come and nest in the mature plant that started off so small and inconspicuous.
But let’s not assume that this image is all nice and cuddly—the great big mustard seed plant sheltering the cute animals while soaring music swells in the background, the sky a pure blue, and the sun shining.
It’s a parable, remember.
So the birds—who might they be?
What if the birds are people you don’t like. Or the people society pushes down. You know, the people we call them.
Perhaps the birds sheltered and cared for by the tiny but great mustard seed turned plant are all the people that many churches and religious people shun; or ignore; or talk about when they are not around.
What if that mustard seed, from the beginning of its life, is indeed rebellious, annoying, subversive, revolutionary, and spicy?
These two parables, if we care to listen, can challenge and encourage us.
Sometimes we will all feel like the tiniest of seeds—fragile, weak, and small, and we’ll wonder if we will ever survive another season.
We go through seasons, too, like the tiny seed.
We encounter dangers and challenges and situations that seem impossible. We go through times when we don’t think we have a purpose and that we’re just blown by the wind randomly. And we certainly have seasons in which we feel cold and unprotected, far from home and far from sunlight and rain.
But the deep roots in all of us, and in the tiny seed—are one and the same. We are all wonderfully made. We, like the tiny seed, can sprout and bloom and become creators ourselves. Perhaps our lives become homes for those who have been left out or pushed down. Maybe when the wind blows we notice all the other seeds [just like us] and decide to relinquish control, to let that gust take us in a new direction.
Every seed will take its own journey.
All of us are planted on this earth in order to grow and to be free.
Consider the Hawaiian poem:
Ua is the falling rain,
La the sun so high,
Together they make Anuenue,
A rainbow in the sky.