Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, 13th June

Mark 4:26–34

Jesus said to the crowd, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a 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 except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

Today, Jesus teaches people in two parables. Why Jesus teaches in parables? One reason was that Jesus wanted his people to gain a better understanding of what kind of kingdom that he tried to bring to them. For the Jews of Jesus time, it was obviously that they were looking for a political Messiah who would restore the glory of dynasty of David. However, Jesus tried to show them gently that his kingdom was not like what they were imagining. His kingdom starts with the smallest thing. To help people to gain a better understanding of his kingdom, his parables are taken from the everyday life of Palestine. The two parables of today’s gospel are drawn from agricultural experience from farmers.

Jesus first compares the kingdom of God with how the harvest comes. He reminds his listeners that harvest begins with tiny seeds. What a farmer does is simply to scatter grains on the ground. Then he leaves them and goes about his daily tasks because the soil will do all the rest. The ripen crop will come in time. By then the farmer will return to the field and gather his harvest.

In reality, mustard seeds are not the smallest seed of all seeds, but for the size of the plant it produces, which can reach a height of ten feet or more, it is relatively smaller than any other seeds. Because of the huge size of the tree and its wide spreading branches, many birds make home on the tree.

Since people perceived that the Messiah promised in the scriptures was a political and powerful messiah, who would save them from the tyranny of the Roman Empire by force, Jesus does not want talk about his Kingdom in plain language but with parables and stories. They would see later how the mustard tree was present in the tiny seed.

Finally, although Jesus explained to his disciples what he meant in hiss parables, they were very slow to grasp the full meaning of his words.

The two parables told by Jesus are about how God become man in incarnation for the salvation of mankind. Indeed, God chose to come into this world as a baby, the son of a poor mother and of a carpenter foster father. He was born in a stable and was forced to leave for Egypt before he was a year old. He lived in poverty in Nazareth for 30 or so years. Then for three years he led an itinerant life preaching the good news of redemption. When the time came for him to lay down his life for the world as pre-arranged by his Father, he allowed his enemy to capture him and to condemn him to die on the cross. These were surely humble beginnings for a kingdom which was to span the earth and ages. This was God’s plan and therefore it succeeded as Jesus said it would. Amen.