“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10
Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B:
How Does Your Garden Grow?
This Sunday Jesus introduces parables (Mark 4:26-34) by saying, "This is what the kingdom of God is like ..." Notice that Jesus is not speaking about actions when he describes the kingdom of God. It is not about a territory or a place or the afterlife in heaven. It is about God acting in the here and now and the parables are clues to how and where to look. In describing "what the kingdom of God is like" Jesus does not give a formula or definition. If he had, he would have restricted or confined "what the kingdom of God is like." By using parables, he taps into our amazing imaginations to help us discover the ways our God acts. If we had a definition we would want to say, "God only works in this way, in this place, in this institution." Just as there are no limits to our imaginings, so there are no limits to "what the kingdom of God is like" for it is a mystery to be live not solved. So, we ask, "What is the kingdom of God like?" In response Jesus tells us two parables. These parables are just two of the thirteen parables to be found in Mark's gospel. There are no limits to the possible and surprising ways God acts in our lives and in the lives of others.
Both parables begin in seeming insignificant and inconsequential ways: seed is scattered; a tiny mustard seed is planted. In the first parable the farmer does not know how the seed grows to harvest on its own accord. How much work did the farmer have to do? In this parable, seemingly, not very much. Jesus was a carpenter not a farmer and I know from my very limited experience that after planting, there is weeding, watering, fertilizing, etc. But Jesus is using an example from the lives of his listeners and plays with the details for his own purpose, telling them to, "Imagine this!" The parable speaks to our own experience and invites us to open our eyes to see God acting and present in our lives. It is reassuring to know how wonderfully God acts, using us disciples to plant life seeds which eventually will yield a harvest? We have lots of work to do in God's kingdom/reign. But this parable is a reminder that God is not limited or uninvolved in the necessary work that must be done for the kingdom to come. We are reminded by this parable that it is not all up to us. The seed itself grows on its own. God alone causes the growth and brings about a harvest! In his public speech, Jesus uses metaphor and story, while, in private, Mark says that Jesus was more direct. Was this to avoid saying something in public for which he could be charged with treasonous speech? The ultimate victory of the "kingdom of God" is sure, proceeding "automatically," and inexorably, without any effort from us, or any endorsement by us. In the meantime, those who follow do so by joining Jesus on the way by living out the "reign of God" in the beloved community. The beloved community is not to be organised hierarchically, but is, rather, a radical reversal of hierarchy. It is a community which is on a spiritual journey exemplified by respecting the human dignity of all people, especially the poor and downtrodden. It walks the way of the cross and not the way of glory.
No one example, illustration, or parable can sum up totally how our God is present and active in our midst. So, after presenting one parable, Mark places another before us. Often when the Bible speaks of God, it's in terms of God's awesome power and holiness. For the defeated people of Israel it was reassuring to believe and put their trust in the power of God, ready to act on their behalf. They would have expected that Jesus would present some powerful image for God's influence in the world. Instead, how startled his hearers must have been to hear his parable of the mustard seed. Jesus' parable is contrasted in the 'first testament' reading from Ezekiel (17:22-24) to the 'Lebanon cedar', and the presumption of human power. The mustard seed was a common weed and Jesus was saying that the reign of God is not far off like the mighty Lebanon cedar, but as close as every backyard and it is spreading like a weed. Ordinary people like us spread God's reign and that reign has the power to effect good in the world in surprising ways. If you have ever tried to get rid of weeds you know what a persistent they are. Just when you think you have conquered them they pop again! That's how persistent God's reign is, like a weed. If the kingdom of God is like a spreading weed, where do I look for it? Am I looking among the powerful and influential, inside or outside the church? We need our vision cleared, our expectations re-ordered if we want to uncover God's reign in our world. The two parables tell us we can miss God's actions in our midst, for we may be looking in the wrong places or clinging to our own expectations of who our God is and how God acts. The two parables suggest that in our search for God we had better be ready for a surprise and, if we are attuned through the parables, we will come to know, "What the kingdom of God is like