Reflection - Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mustard Seeds. Photo: Joshua Lanzarini on Unsplash
The liturgical calendar has a significant change this week. We have completed the celebration of important feast days starting with the Passion and Resurrection and finishing last week with The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. This Sunday, we go into routine mode of moving through the gospel. But it is interesting as ordinary life is interesting.
Mark writes tersely and like a journalist does not use three words if two will do. In chapter 4 Mark writes to the Christian community that Jesus uses parables to describe the kingdom of heaven. We are less used to the political reality of ‘kingdoms’ since our lived experience is of a democratic state. But other people know the heavy hand of the ‘kingdom’ government to this day. But we understand the ‘kingdom of heaven notionally’.
Parables are stories told by a teacher; simple stories help people, especially uneducated people, understand deeper spiritual realities. It gives them entry into the abstract by using the concrete reality of their experience.
Jesus was a master storyteller. The people were not lacking in intelligence but lacking in the written word skills; they were workers, not students like the Pharisees.
In the first parable, Jesus says that the seed grows by itself. The seed seems to refer to the followers of Jesus spreading the seed, which is the’ good news’ of Jesus. The amazing thing here is the statement that the seed grows by itself. Nothing can prevent it from spreading.
This is something of a puzzle for those who wonder about the need for more people to spread the word of God if it spreads by itself. It is mysterious, but the followers of Jesus increase regardless.
Historically, the Christian faith was spread by Christians along trade routes and fleeing persecution. They took their faith with them, and it spread to peoples where the Christians went. It seems the example of the followers of Christ was dynamic. At the same time, in some places, the need for more disciples to witness and proclaim the promises that Jesus’ way of living held out to them was evident. Harvesters wanted urgently!
The mustard seed is tiny, and it doesn’t grow huge, unlike the cedars in Lebanon mentioned in the psalms. It grows to be a large shrub. But birds can still make nests in its shade. The kingdom is like that mustard shrub, insignificant, yet welcomes all and is generous in providing a home for all comers.
No one could envisage how big the ‘mustard’ shrub would grow to be.
The gospel says that Jesus spoke to the people in parables; they obviously didn’t understand all he said, but he explains the parables to the disciples, the chosen band. Presumably, their task is to explain further the mysteries of the kingdom of God.
Columban Fr Gary Walker is currently living at the Columban house in Sandgate, Brisbane.