The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – 11th Ordinary (Day 4)

Mark 4:26-34

26 Then Jesus said, “This is what God’s kingdom is like. It’s as though someone scatters seed on the ground, 27  then sleeps and wakes night and day. The seed sprouts and grows, but the farmer doesn’t know how. 28  The earth produces crops all by itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full head of grain. 29  Whenever the crop is ready, the farmer goes out to cut the grain because it’s harvest time.”
30 He continued, “What’s a good image for God’s kingdom? What parable can I use to explain it? 31  Consider a mustard seed. When scattered on the ground, it’s the smallest of all the seeds on the earth; 32  but when it’s planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all vegetable plants. It produces such large branches that the birds in the sky are able to nest in its shade.”
33 With many such parables he continued to give them the word, as much as they were able to hear. 34 He spoke to them only in parables, then explained everything to his disciples when he was alone with them.

What kind of kingdom is this?  It’s out of human control (vv.26-29).  And its beginnings are so inconsequential as not to be noticed (vv.30-32).  This is not the way you stage and promote a new organization meant to capture the public’s eye!

Jesus’ disciples don’t readily understand this – they require private explanation of the parables after their public announcement by Jesus.  And still they don’t quite get it. 

Nor do we!  Jesus’ “strategy” (if that is the right word for it) befuddles us to.  We’re busy trying to “grow” and “manage” (we call it leadership, but it’s not) God’s work into what it was never meant to be.

The picture of God’s people from his call of Abraham and Sarah (Gen.12:1-3) onward is not of what we have come to call and experience of “church.”  Rather, it should look and act more like what I call “God’s subversive counter-revolutionary movement.”  By this, I mean, Israel and the church were sent by God to counter humanity’s primal revolution of sin and rebellion against its Creator and the ways that sinful rebelliousness has worked its way into the warp and woof of human personal and social life. And to counter it be living and organizing itself in a manner reflective of what God designed life to be.

Small, vital communities living amid the neighborhoods and urban settings sharing life with their friends and neighbors, struggling alongside them over the issues they face, sharing life stories with their dreams and hurts, inviting them to share God’s life together even if they haven’t yet made a commitment to Jesus, and learning to build together new forms of life together that lead to greater wholeness and humanity.

Such a movement obviously cannot establish and sustain itself by itself.  It requires God’s oversight and care for the growth of the seeds we spread.  Such a movement must be small, indeed often invisible to the larger public eye, for the same reason any subversive movement must be “below the radar.”  Our work in countering the bulk of the way life has been organized and human beings oriented by their sinful rebellion, we will have to work carefully and discerningly in the nooks and crannies, for the most part, to participate in the work God is doing. 

Jesus’ parables here suddenly come to life in such a scenario.  They do make sense and, at the same time, reveal the distance between us and Jesus today.  That makes these words well worth pondering!


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