Small Thing, Abundant Growth

"Erodium cicutarium flower20." Image by Harry Rose via Flickr; licensed under CC BY 2.0.

One of our sons-in-law works in plant pathology. Recently he took us to visit the lab and greenhouse where he works to discover the genetic makeup of various strains of wheat. It’s a combination of everyday tools like seed starters, mortars, and pestles, on the one hand; and on the other hand, highly developed machines for mapping genetic sequences. Organisms both simple and complex, both plant and animal, vary widely. But they all consist of a few bases that generate only a small pool of amino acids. The sequencing of these created the distinctions between porpoises, porcupines, parsnips, and people.

Biblical writers had no knowledge of genes. They nevertheless perceived analogies present in nature between ourselves and other living beings. The story of Ruth turns on fertility of both human seed and agricultural seed. (In fact, in both Hebrew and Latin, “seed” and “semen” are the same word). Not only is our survival analogous to the earth’s fruitfulness, but as several other passages point out, we absolutely depend on it.

Biblical writers go even further, drawing analogies to non-living realms, comparing human wisdom to the sky itself, human volition to precious metals, and human power to ocean waves and floods. Though our culture attempts to isolate us from the natural world, we are made of it, we are part of it, we are inseparable from it, we are vulnerable to it — and it is vulnerable to the seven billion of us who live in its midst.

At a time when political forces deny science and economic greed destroys mountains, seas, and air, those of us who see our need to live wisely on the earth sometimes feel our actions matter little. Yet Mark 12:38-44 (November 11) reminds us to beware of powerful hypocrites who destroy our home while defending themselves with rhetoric. Even in the midst of opposing powers, Jesus pointed out that a poor widow’s two copper coins mattered more than all the actions of the mighty. What we do sows seeds for the next generation, whether we can see this or not.

November 4

  • Deuteronomy 6:1-9 prescribes devotion to God alone in the land flowing with milk and honey.
  • Ruth 1:1-18 (semi-continuous) centers on infertility and fertility, both human and agricultural. Though it begins with barrenness in field and family, its ending in the barley harvest (verse 22) hints at abundance to come.
  • Psalm 146 (semi-continuous) reflects on the mortality of human leaders and the infinite gifts of God, directing attention to the gifts of the natural world as the provision of God, “who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry” (verses 6-7).
  • Mark 12:28-34 invites hearers to redraw the boundaries of “neighbor.” If, like the good Samaritan, our non-human neighbors give so freely, should we not concern ourselves with them as well?

November 11

  • Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 (semi-continuous) follows the reading from Ruth 1 last week. Here, once again, barley seed and human seed are paired. During the barley harvest Ruth proposes to Boaz. When she bears his child, she carries fertility forward to a new generation.
  • Psalm 127 (semi-continuous) celebrates God’s gifts of protection, sleep, and children.
  • 1 Kings 17:8-16 tells of the poor widow whose grain and oil lasted through the drought, saving her and her son.
  • Psalm 146 — see above, November 4.
  • Mark 12:38-44 warns against self-important hypocrites who demand public respect. It extols instead a generous widow, declaring the meaningfulness of seemingly small gifts. Individual actions still matter.

November 18

  • 1 Samuel 2:1-10 (semi-continuous) shares Hannah’s song of joy in the God who feeds the hungry and gives children to the barren.
  • Daniel 12:1-3 compares the wise to the sky’s brightness.
  • Mark 13:1-8 predicts the unthinkable, the temple’s coming destruction. A millennium-long status quo will disappear in a day. Many debating the threat of climate change assume the ecosystem’s invincibility, yet Jesus emphasizes that nothing is invincible.

November 25

  • 2 Samuel 23:1-7 (semi-continuous) compares wise rule to “the light of morning … the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land” (verse 4), inviting reflection on the soul-enlarging and mind-clarifying natural landscape.
  • Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 describes “one like a human being” who is given dominion over the whole world.
  • Psalm 93 describes God’s reign over the mightiest of floods and waves.
  • John 18:33-37 describes Jesus’ peculiar reign over, not derived from, this world’s powers.

December 2

  • Jeremiah 33:14-16 uses the metaphor of a tree branch to describe a righteous ruler springing up.
  • Luke 21:25-36 takes a lesson from the spring’s leaf buds, a phenomenon few today take thought to examine right outside our doors.

December 9

  • Baruch 5:1-9 quotes from Isaiah 40, announcing mountains and valleys leveled and trees providing shade.
  • Malachi 3:1-4 compares God to earthly fires purifying precious metals.
  • Luke 1:68-79 compares God’s tender mercies to the breaking of dawn.
  • Philippians 1:3-11 expresses Paul’s grateful support for the Christian community, modeling valuing persons over wealth.
  • Luke 3:1-6 emphasizes that all creatures will see God’s salvation.

December 16

  • Zephaniah 3:14-20 announces good news for disabled persons and outsiders, changing humiliation into praise and renown.
  • Isaiah 12:2-6 imagines salvation as a well from which the faithful joyfully draw water.
  • Philippians 4:4-7 invites the audience into gentleness, joy, and peace in the midst of cares.
  • Luke 3:7-18 challenges hearers, like healthy trees, to bear worthy fruits.

December 23

  • Micah 5:2-5a imagines Godly leadership as feeding a flock of sheep.
  • Luke 1:46b-55 praises God’s support of the lowly and resistance toward the powerful.
  • Psalm 80:1-7 paradoxically portrays God as both enthroned on cherubim and busy tending sheep.
  • Hebrews 10:5-10 prizes Jesus’ self-giving over the giving of material sacrifices.
  • Luke 1:39-45, (46-55) celebrates the “fruit” of Mary’s womb.

December 30

  • 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26 attends to the lowly: a boy and his self-giving mother.
  • Psalm 148 calls all creation to praise God: angels and heavenly bodies, earthly residents both animate and inanimate, and after all these, human beings.
  • Colossians 3:12-17 commends appropriate adornment: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.