The key word in this verse is the first one, automatee. It means “of itself” or “by itself” and yes, it is related to the word “automatic.” Of itself, says Jesus, the soil produces fruit. Now in our modern understanding, we know that it is actually the seed that grows and not the soil. However, the point is that the growth comes from what is already present.
For people who understand basic biology, this makes sense. A seed has within it, in embryonic form, a tiny plant. There are proto leaves and a tiny root stub surrounded by all the energy needed to make the plant grow. With moisture and a medium in which to grow, the root will go down, the leaves go up and the plant begin its becoming. Pop open a peanut the next time you see one. Notice that tiny bit of grit between the two halves? Under a handlens, you’ll see the tiny leaves and the little root waiting (in an unroasted nut) to grow.
The seed is, in another part of the chapter, described as the word, the logos. In another place, logos is used to describe Jesus himself. Regardless of the specific meaning, the seed is itself the power to grow and, according to scripture elsewhere, has been put into our life by the work of God. And contained in the seed, ready to grow as soon as it is given an excuse, is all the beauty God gives us. It has within itself all the things needed for growth and all the beauty toward which we will reach with all our lives.
In fact, it not only does it have what is needed to grow, it has within itself the irrepressible power to grow. It will grow whether we are good people or bad people. The seed will sprout whether we are attentive or ignorant. The seed has already got the power to grow, and that seed has been sown in us.
What then is the implication for us? That the gift of new life in God is entire and complete within us right now. We do not need to wait for perfection, or the uttermost moment of wonder in order to grow. We are not constrained by waiting for the outside to be just right or to ‘figure it all out’ (an hopeless and pointless task. Try to figure out your friend, I dare you. You’ll end up with a bent brain, wasted hours, and only some insights. If the mystery of one human is beyond our reach, how arrogant to assume any one of us can figure out life).
In short, we are given the seed of new life in Christ’s love for us. That seed contains within it all that is needed for growth and it will grow of itself. Automatically, the seed grows. Automatically, our life unfolds in newness. From itself, toward beauty, our life unfolds in grace.