Monday, June 8, 2015

Botanical Gnomic


A friend of mine in seminary introduced me to the term "botanical gnomic" as a literary and pedagogical device that Jesus used to convey a general truth using agricultural terms. Similar to the gnomic present, which uses present tense to describe something that happened in the past, this technique is popular in the gospel accounts. When I sat down to write my Jesus & Christology final, I found a way to use this esoteric term to comment on a particular biblical passage. Proud of my use of the term, I quickly informed my colleague of what I had done. He blushed, laughed sheepishly, and informed me that he had made it up. It wasn't real at all. He was just pulling my leg. And I had used it as if it were a real, actual, matter-of-fact thing. I was furious.

Well, last Sunday, I donned a green stole for the first Sunday in a long time, but this week will be the real first Sunday of Ordinary Time as we get to our first botanical gnomic text--Mark 4:26-34 and its two parables about the growing kingdom. There will be more to come this summer, for sure, but I smile a satisfied smirk this week as I think about my friend and how I ended up earning a higher grade than he did on that final. (He trounced me on all the rest, but I was vindicated in at least one.)

"The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how." What a wonderful text! The kingdom happens. It just happens. Don't pull out the biology books. Don't go back to ninth-grade science. Just let it be. Let the beautiful mystery of a child's bean plant in a cup be the way you perceive the kingdom.

It just grows. All the farmer really needs to know is 1) scatter the seed, 2) wait, 3) harvest. Of course, that's not good agronomy. We've got several farmers in this parish, and I'll hear a lot from them if I preach a sermon on "farming is simple--you just plant, wait, and harvest." I won't do that, but I'll probably come close. And why? Because kingdom parables are not supposed to explain everything. They're just one narrow way of looking at a big and beautiful thing.

The kingdom of God is a lot more complicated than that. It takes lots of effort. "What about the watering? What about the weeds? What about the fertilizer?" All of those are good questions, and, in an allegory about the kingdom, I bet you could use them to describe prayer and temptation and regular church attendance, but that totally blows up the beauty of this parable. So DON'T DO IT!

He scatters the seed and sleeps and rises, night and day, and you know what? The seeds sprout, and he doesn't know how. He doesn't need to know how. He doesn't want to know how. Just tell him when the harvest is ripe, and he'll go in after it.

Isn't that a nice image of the kingdom? Isn't it nice to think of God as a child might? Let your imagination run with it, but don't worry if you don't know "the answers." Sometimes the wondering is the best part.

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