I’m working through Mark’s gospel for Sunday school this fall and I have been in chapters 3 and 4 the last week or so. In 3:23 Mark records that “Jesus began speaking to them in parables.” Then in chapter 4 Jesus tells the parable of the soils (4:3-9; 13-20) with an explanation to his disciples why he used parables (4:10-12). He then tells the parable of lamp and measure (4:21-25) and then the parable of the seed which germinates in secret (4:26-29). In the parable of the seed which germinates in secret, Jesus introduces the parable by saying,
“The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil, and he goes to bed and gets up by day and the seed sprouts and grows – how, he himself does not know” (4:26-27).
The man goes about his life giving no thought or observation to the seed he scattered until one day he notices something remarkable has taken place, seemingly all on its own.
Jesus then adds in 4:28 that “the soil produces crops by itself.” It is this adjective “by itself” that caught my attention. It is the term αὐτόματος (automatos) and yes, it is the word from which we get our English term automatic. The term is used only twice in the New Testament, here and in Acts 12:10 when Peter was released from jail by an angel and when he came to the city gate, it opened by itself.
The sense of this word is that it denotes that which happens without any visible cause. And that is the point. Regarding the seed, while the source of its growth may not be visible, there is an unseen cause behind the amazing process of germination. And in the same way, regarding the growth of the kingdom, that unseen cause is God! He will bring about the kingdom. He is responsible for its existence, its growth, and its eventual arrival one day. The church has prayed for this the past 2000 years: “Thy kingdom come.” The kingdom is coming. It’s automatic!