A friend in the United States sends us a brown box filled with little brown packets of vegetable seeds every year. The harvest descriptions are tantalizing: “dark green, succulent flesh, tender when cooked a short time, the best of all bush beans”; “super-sweet corn, crunchy, and tender, stays sweet a long time after picking”; “lettuce with delicious flavor, small, loosely folded heads.” One sits and imagines the pleasure of seeing the plants show the first mist of green lines above the dark soil, of hoeing and watering at sunset, of admiring the lush growth as time goes on, of harvesting luscious vegetables.

Days go by. Weeks go by. A brown box full of brown packets of seeds sits in a cupboard in our Swiss mountain home. Imagining gardening does nothing to produce a real crop. Rain and sun can do no good to seeds that remain in the cupboard! And suddenly there comes a day when we put all else aside to begin the planting.

The ground needs preparation. The “false plants” need to be weeded out first, and the ground dug up. And empty prepared ground doesn’t remain empty long. If the good seeds stay in packets, false seeds will blow in, creep in from nearby plants, be carried in by gusts of rain. The empty waiting ground can quickly be filled with a heavy crop of weeds.

“Hearken: behold, there went out a sower to sow.” Jesus in Mark 4:3 begins his parable with this most important step. There has to be a belief that the seed is valid seed, such as is described on the packet, but then there has to come action to get it into the ground. Jesus leaves no doubt as to what the seed is: verse 14, “The sower soweth the word”; verse 15, “where the word is sown”; verse 17, “when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake”; verse ...

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