A significant segment of the economic and political leadership on both sides of the Atlantic appears to be oblivious to the point (or points) Jesus was making about planting mustard seeds.
It’s that familiar parable of Jesus that draws on the wisdom of farmers over the eons: that when the ground is bare it’s time to invest in seeds – even the tiniest ones – so they can be planted, and allowed to grow into something quite large, and end up achieving important purposes.
Jesus says the Realm of God is like that: something like the miniscule mustard seed that is sown on the bare soil and then nurtured in its growth so that it becomes so large that the birds of the air can make their homes in its big branches.
The desired result – the flourishing of avian families, in this parable – depends on a farmer whose timing is right on the mark.
That farmer knows she has to obtain the seeds – drawing on what’s in stock, or on savings, or even, if necessary, borrowing – so that the seeds can be sown at just the right time for germination, followed by the formation of roots and stems, and then branches and leaves.
When the ground is bare, that is, it is exactly not the time to hoard the seeds, or to put off buying them, or resist taking out a loan for purchasing them.
Austerity is precisely the wrong farming practice to follow when it’s time to plant – if the purpose is to end up with strong and healthy organisms.
What’s more, it’s not just any old sack of seeds that count. Sure, you can buy cheap seeds and save a little cash on the front end, but be the big loser at the back end.
Investing in good seeds, even if you have to dig deeper in the pocket or take out a larger loan, pays large dividends when finally the totals are added and all the efforts are assessed.
My knowledge about this, I readily acknowledge, comes from my cousin-in-law, a former farmer and seller of seeds. But with no disrespect to him, the parable that Jesus told about mustard plant farming really isn’t all that complicated.
Nor should the application of the parable to human life be all that difficult to comprehend.
But there are economic and political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic these days who seem unable to get the point.
With local, regional and national economies bare, they think this is the time for austerity, for hoarding their assets, for resolutely refusing to borrow.
If there is to be any spending, they believe, it ought to be on the cheap.
Never mind the huge benefits that would result from drawing on savings and taking out loans – especially when the interest rates are at historic lows – for investing in public education at all levels, for seeding employment opportunities for everyone, for repairing decaying infrastructures and creating new foundations for communication and transportation and discovery, for providing critical human services for those in need, for experimenting with interpersonal and international models of reducing conflict and fostering mutual understanding and cooperation.
Never mind, that is, envisioning a society where all of the families across the globe will flourish far into the future without destroying the God-given earth on which all of life depends.
Being oblivious to the point of the parable doesn’t just lead to bad timing and unfortunate results. It also makes us inattentive, in our own time, to what the Reign of God might actually be about.
Larry Greenfield retired on Dec. 31, 2018 as the executive director of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. He served previously as executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, a regional judicatory of the American Baptist Churches U.S.A, and the theologian-in-residence for the Community Renewal Society.