But recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
For yet "in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; but my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back." But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.
He also said, "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. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come."
He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
The work of God is like a seed full of promise, which comes to fulfillment only after much patient waiting in the darkness of the earth. There is conflict and change as the seed breaks apart and loses itself for the new sprout to develop and appear on the surface of the earth. We should try linking Jesus' parable about the seed sown within the dark earth with the reading from Hebrews.
While it is not standard parable interpretation to take an incidental detail of a story as a prime element in its explanation, an occasional lapse from the rules may be allowed. Hebrews was probably written for converts from Judaism, some of them former priests of the Temple. (Acts 6:7, "many Jewish priests, embraced the faith.") These could easily remember--with nostalgia and regret--their former moments of splendid temple worship, whereas they now had only simple rites in private house, the eucharist in upper rooms, with little ritual and no grandeur. Their family ties had been disrupted and many of their own household now scorned and persecuted them.
Hebrews faces this problem of discouragement with the long trek of following Jesus on our earthly journey to be with him behind the veil in the Holy of Holies. In today's text we note the tone of persecution and delay; the readers have endured a great contest of suffering; were publicly exposed to insult and the confiscation of their goods. There is the call to persevere: do not surrender your confidence; just a brief moment. His promise is that he will not delay, to be with those who have faith and life.
We cannot quite grasp how the seed that falls into the ground becomes stalks of wheat to provide grain and bread, or becomes a tree with branches, letting the birds of the sky build nests in its shade. Nor can we understand God's ways in the history of his servants. Yet just as wheat provides bread and the mustard tree shade, so also their story encourages us and says that God does not abandon our growth in holiness. Salvation is a patient interaction between God and ourselves. And we must encourage the salvation of each other, by showing patience and confidence in members of our family, community and neighbourhood, through the long dark hours when the seed is in the earth, breaking apart and showing little or no sign of what it can, and eventually will, become.
The seed growing secretly suggests the mystery of growth. The farmer works hard to sow the seed, but then he has to wait. In a way he does not fully understand, the seed grows of his own accord. It is only when the seed is fully grown and the crop is ripe that the farmer can get down to work again. The wise farmer knows when it is time to work, and when it is time to stand back and wait patiently, and let nature to take its course. We are not farmers, but like the farmer in the parable we all have to try and get that balance between working to make something happen and standing back to let something to happen. The balance between engagement and disengagement is important when it comes to all growth, including human growth, our own growth and the growth of others. The process of growth is not something we can fully control. That is especially true of our growth in Christ. There are certain things we can do to bring that about, but there are some things only the Lord can do. There comes at time when we have the let the Lord to work his growth in us; that will often mean for us, easing up a little, doing less, making room for the Lord to work.