THE FIRST TWO PARABLES ABOUT THE KINGDOM OF GOD
(A biblical reflection on THE ELEVENTH ORDINARY SUNDAY [Year B] – 13 June 2021)
Gospel Reading: Mark 4:26-34
First Reading: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalms: Psalm 92:2-3,13-16; Second Reading: 2Corinthians 5:6-10
The Scripture Text
And He said, “The Kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how. The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.’’
And He said, “With what can we compare the Kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
With many such parables He spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to His own disciples He explained everything. (Mark 4:26-34 RSV)
In today’s Gospel reading we listen to Jesus teaching people about the Kingdom of God. There are two parables about the growth of the Kingdom:  Parable of the seed grows of itself (it is growing even when we do not see it); and  Parable of the mustard seed (it is growing from tiny beginnings to a huge expansion).
There are many pastors, teachers and parents who feel totally inadequate in the face of today’s changed societies in the whole world. The answers of yesterday seem to have no relationship with the questions of today. Many people around this globe are finding it difficult to hold onto any faith in the Kingdom. They struggle to see evidence of the Holy Spirit in our world.
Mark’s Gospel is very relevant to this stage of faith in crisis. He was writing some forty years after the time of Jesus. The Church community was under persecution from the outside. Virtually all the apostles and direct links with Jesus were gone. They now had the new phenomenon of Christians who were relapsing and falling away. And apparently there were internal problems also from self-appointed prophets and healers who were distorting the message of Jesus to their own ends. People were asking, “Is this what Jesus set up as the Kingdom of God? Where is the evidence of the Holy Spirit?”
Mark wrote his Gospel to help this community in crisis. He gathered into one section five parables which instruct us on what the Kingdom is like. Today’s Gospel reading has two of these. The Kingdom is like the seed which grows in the hiddenness of night as well as in the light of day. And the mustard seed holds out the promise of a huge expansion from the tiniest of beginnings.
These parables tell us of the helplessness of man. The farmer does not make the seed grow. In the last analysis he does not even understand how it grows. It has the secret of life and of growth within itself. No man has ever possessed the secret of life; no man has ever created anything in the full sense of the term. Man can discover things; he can rearrange them; he can develop them; but he cannot create them. We do not create the Kingdom of God because the kingdom is God’s. It is true that we can frustrate it and hinder it; or we can make a situation in the world where it is given the opportunity to come more fully and more speedily. But behind all things is God and the power and will of God.
At the end of this collection of parables, Mark has an intriguing comment to make: “He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to His own disciples He explained everything” (Mark 4:34). Large crowds of people heard the story or parable but they stayed outside the circle of believers. However, those who are called disciples received the gift of further instruction and they got inside the story. They came to know that the parable was part of their life and that they were part of the parable’s life.
Jesus called on people to repent and believe. To believe in the Kingdom is to hear the story of Jesus and to know that we are part of that story. The Gospel involves each and every one of us, personally. These parables invite us to look at an acorn or any seed and to see how it differs from a lifeless grain of sand because of its great potential for growth. And the further marvel is in recognizing that the seed of Jesus is for the soil of “my” life.
Yet, many people today are overcome by the wide injustice practices, the extent of violence in households and/or mass-violence, vandalism and extraordinary crimes – such as corruption – in our midst. They are appalled by the ever-widening gap between the poor and the rich, amoral standards which are accepted in entertainment, etc. There must be a very strong diabolical power at work behind the destruction of life through the culture of death, among others, the fast spreading of destructive drugs. There are parents whose lives have been shattered as their off-spring casually cast off their Christian morals and expressions of faith due to hedonism, materialism, as well as consumerism, or simply due to inter-marriages in a pluralistic society such as ours. And not a few numbers of priests feel desperately inadequate in the face of questions about faith or about the relevance of Church practices.
Where is God hiding? How long is God to remain asleep? Where is the reign of God, that Kingdom, which Jesus set up? There is, however, another side to the picture of today. Not only is it the worst of times in some ways but in many ways it is the best of times. It is not difficult for you and I to see an increasing number of people deeply drawn into very close intimacy with God and who are experiencing a vibrant prayer-life. They know that they are part of the story.
There is also a growing sense of responsibility for the environment and for justice throughout the world. There is admirable goodwill and generosity in answering various appeals due to natural disasters, etc. Our modern time, for all its sins, has witnessed extraordinary advances in the elimination of injustice working conditions and standards in many parts of the world. And in the Church there is a growing body of laity who are conscious of their Confirmation and anxious to be actively involved in the cause of Christ. We do well to remember the lesson of history that the darkest periods of Church life gave us the greatest saints and the most powerful religious movements.
Today’s two parables call us to persevere in believing even if much of the outer evidence that we see is negative. We are called to believe that, even while God seems to be asleep and far away from us, His power is still here with us. We are asked to open our eyes to whatever is good … even if it is very small, insignificant and removed from the centre of influence. We must believe that here is a small seed that God can bring to great growth.
Prophet Ezekiel (First Reading) preaches a message of hope. He consoles his troubled and despairing fellow citizens with the promise of God’s Kingdom to come. It will be a kingdom of prosperity and peace, with a Messiah, an anointed king, as God’s vicegerent to rule them. Have hope! It is still a tender shoot but it will grow. God can do whatever seems impossible: “I the LORD bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it” (Ezekiel 17:24 RSV). In the Gospel, God’s Kingdom awaited by the Jewish people becomes the Christian reign of God with Jesus as the Christ (Messiah) and God’s vicegerent.
Thus, we are asked to wait patiently, like the farmer. For lasting growth takes time. We wait with the sort of hope which inspired a prisoner-of-war to write: “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining; I believe in love even when I feel it not; I believe in God even when He is silent.” Meanwhile let us listen to the prayer of Saint Paul: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13 RSV).
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, we understand that Christian hope implies uncertainty and requires patience. Your prophet Ezekiel told his people this when he referred to a Hebrew Kingdom of God to come. Saint Mark told his readers the same lesson. God’s word is like a seed in us. Through You, Lord Jesus, our heavenly Father scattered it on the ground. We sincerely want this seed to bear bountiful fruit in the Church today. Thank You, Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jakarta, 12 June 2021
A Christian Pilgrim