Jesus in My Father's Garden

My father is 82 years old, and for most of his life he was an avid gardener and fisherman. He lost interest in the garden after my mother died. This year I told Dad that I wanted a garden. My father has rarely refused me anything, so in late April we planted a garden.

The experience has caused me to understand the teachings of Jesus in a more profound way. When we shopped for seeds and plants, we went to a little mom-and-pop hardware store with wood floors crowded with all kinds of hardware stuff. After selecting tomato, pepper, and cabbage plants, we went inside to buy seeds. We bought seeds for string beans, okra, collard, turnips, Swiss chard, and mustard greens. The seed for the mustard greens was tiny.

"So this is the famous mustard seed," I said to the store owner. He smiled, "Yep, that's it." When Jesus' disciples cannot cast out a demon, Jesus tells them that their faith is too small. Then he goes on to say: "For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, move from here to there, and it will move: and nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20)

Holding that tiny mustard see under my fingernail and thinking how just that much faith could move a mountain, I was astonished. Do I have this much faith? Does the church universal have this much faith? Why are we not casting out demons of poverty, racism, xenophobia, greed, and war? Why are we not moving mountains of climate change, urban restoration, clean water, and education?

We bought lots of Swiss chard, and we sowed it generously. As I planted it, I thought of the biblical axiom: "The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." (2 Corinthians 9:6). The Swiss chard is coming up nicely.

However, the okra did not come up. Nothing. I thought of Jesus' parable of the sower. What happened? The seeds? The soil? My father was very cool about it. It is just a reality of the garden. While working in the garden, I notice the birds going about their bird business, seemingly without a care. I remember Jesus' teaching that we ought not to live in fear of those who can only kill he body. Jesus says: "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God's sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid: You are of more value than many sparrows." (Luke 12:6-7).

Again I see Jesus using the small, common place, and insignificant to make a large, extraordinary, supremely meaningful point.

A few days ago we harvested mustard greens, Swiss chard, and turnips. They tasted SO good. I do not know whether it was because they were fresh or free of chemicals or grown from my work and from my father's wisdom and love or because Jesus was with us in the garden. Perhaps it was all of the above. Have a happy Father's Day.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at She received her PhD in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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