A natural fact in the vegetable world to which Christ, in a short four verse parable, likens the Kingdom of Heaven. When a man has sown his seed whether he is asleep or awake, night or day, germination will go on without his knowing how, and the earth will put forth first the blade, then the ear, and last of all the full corn in the ear. When the grain is ripe there is nothing for him to do but come with the sickle: it is the harvest time.
This is the only parable peculiar to Saint Mark’s Gospel (Mark 4), and is told in his characteristic crisp style. It is one of a trinity of parables which describe the Kingdom of God on earth, the others being the “Sower” and the “Mustard Seed.” The audience consisted of a “great multitude,” mostly from Capharnaum, who remained on the shore while Jesus taught them many things in patables from a little boat on the Lake of Tiberias. The meaning of the similitude is that Our Lord having founded the Church and endowed it with gifts and power of spiritual growth, leaves it alone, as it were, to grow and ripen by itself. The Church germinates and increases as a Divine seed even to the end of the world. Its development nothing is able to arrest. When its period of growth is complete, at the Last Day, He will return and gather in the harvest.
The parable is explained thus
- the seed is the teaching of the Gospel
- the sower is primarily Christ who first promulgated this teaching and left it to the Church, and secondarily the Apostles and their successors
- by earth is meant the hearts and souls of men
- sleep, rise, and ‘he knoweth not’ can refer only to the human ministers of the Gospel to whose efforts the growth of the Gospel is not to be ascribed, only God giveth the increase
- putting in the sickle signifies the end of the world
The same parable can be applied to the Kingdom of God in each Christian soul in particular. Patience is the great lesson taught by this parable, hence the stress laid on the spontaneity of the growth. Those who preach the Word of God must patiently wait for the fruit of their labors. There is no liturgical assignment of this parable to any Sunday of the year.