Ordinary Time, Week 11

O Lord, hear my voice, for I have called to You; be my help. Do not abandon or forsake me, O God, my Savior! (Psalm 27:7, 9)

O God, strength of those who hope in You,
graciously hear our pleas,
and, since without You mortal frailty can do nothing,
grant us always the help of Your grace,
that in following Your commands
we may please You by our resolve and our deeds.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, for ever and ever.

Lord, it is good to give thanks to you. (Psalm 92:2).

Jesus said to the crowds:
“This is how it is with the kingdom of God;
it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land
and would sleep and rise night and day
and through it all the seed would sprout and grow,
he knows not how.
Of its own accord the land yields fruit,
first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once,
for the harvest has come.”

He said,
“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
With many such parables
he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.
Without parables he did not speak to them,
but to his own disciples he explained everything in private (Mark 4:26-34).

In a week that saw increased unemployment here in the United States, more threating economic instability in Europe, Catholic Bishops concluding a meeting and a dire walk that not only inspired but painted a new image for Saint Paul’s often quoted, “we walk by faith and not by sight,” we listen today to Gospel parables reflecting on how scattered seed grows and the perplexing fact of a small seed yielding a large shrub as many in the world honor Dad on a day that bears his name.

It is helpful to review previous posts concerning parables and the Kingdom of God particularly as they are used in the Gospels. That information helps us once again to focus on the lessons essential to “walk by faith and not by sight.” Also important by way of review are the previous 25 verses of this chapter in the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Jesus’ teaching in those verses and the text of this Sunday form an important foundation for the concluding episode of this chapter that asks a most haunting and elemental question of Christian living, “Who do you say I AM?”

As for the parables at hand, questions concerning ‘how’ and ‘quantity’ frame the presentation and invite pondering minds and hearts to reflect on the message of the Kingdom of the God. ‘How something works’ and ‘how big it is – or – how much of that item one has on hand’ are characteristics of a contemporary approach to life. When I can solve the enigma of how something works, I have a certain mastery over that given reality. I can then play with it, tweak it, adjust it, manipulate it according to my own whim or agenda. In contrast, the one who scattered the seed is oblivious to how the seed grows. He sleeps and the seed grows – not that there is a direct causal connection here but the fact is that in terms of the Kingdom, something happens even though I or others can not explain the how.

Consider the Parable of the Mustard Seed: in contemporary culture, especially Western cosmology ‘might makes right.’ If 1 is good, 2, 3 or 4 are even better. Statistics, actuary studies and numbering crunching often rule the day in terms of decision-making. Sadly, even the institutional Church from time to time falls prey to this way of thinking when decisions are made devoid of human interaction, contact and the light of the Gospel. Life according to brute facts or seemingly ‘objective’ numbers is not Kingdom living. This is not to say that one throws caution, prudence and stewardship to the wind. The reality of the Kingdom demands a different approach to life because as Kingdom living unfolds - the least significant is often the most significant, the little is great.

‘How’ and ‘quantity’ are just two aspects of these parables that Jesus casts within the context of mystery (see Mark 4:11). What is important here is that mystery is not a synonym for unknowable, even though this is the popular meaning of mystery. Within a Christian context or the context of Kingdom living, mystery is the approach one takes to living. Far from being primarily concerned about the unknowable, mystery in early Christianity and certainly later in the age of the Fathers of the Church is primarily about ‘the unfolding of life.’ Christian teachers ‘baptized’ the Greek approach to mystery which held that it was a term that best expressed being formed to live in a particular way. Christian Mystery expressed adventure, surprise and freedom because one approached life not as a reality to be controlled or quantified, but to be made known – hence the often used English word ‘unfolding’ to describe mystery in its most primal and essential meaning. True, even the early Christians knew there were dimensions of Kingdom living that they could not intellectually articulate. But this was not the reason for using the word mystery. They held, as we need to recapture, that mystery is a way of living the Kingdom where I am not in control. Life is lived in the mode of response free from the pressure to break it down and figure it out or to quantify it into managerial segments that I orchestrate. The Mystery of the Kingdom is to sleep in the Lord and rejoice gratefully in the growth and life that unfolds to build-up the Body of Christ here-and-now.

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