The gospel reading on Sunday, the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, spoke of the Kingdom of God. And did so by means of parables – familiars that have been much heard and much loved in the 2000 years since their first telling.
Jesus said to the crowds, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man throws seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, he loses no time: he starts to reap because the harvest has come.’
He also said, ‘What can we say the kingdom of God is like? What parable can we find for it? It is like a mustard seed which at the time of its sowing in the soil is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.’
Using many parables like these, he spoke the word to them, so far as they were capable of understanding it. He would not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything to his disciples when they were alone.
The parables of Jesus are very familiar to us. We might want to cut to the chase and is so far as we have not yet learnt what the Kingdom of God is, we’d like the advanced course offered to the disciples when they and Jesus were alone.
Unfortunately the very idea of the advanced course, with answers, might very easily be a Markan irony. Is there much evidence in his Gospel of the disciples learning anything directly from what Jesus taught them?
However the parables are familiar to us. They came seem safe and reassuring. Some of Jesus parables were like that, but often they were rather disturbing, albeit the disturbance and shock effect decorated by the glad rags of story.
As already noted when this passage was presented on this blog on Sunday, maybe the farmer was a lazy farmer – doing nothing to look after the crop from planting to harvest; maybe the mustard plant is simply a weed, colonising otherwise ‘productive’ land.
Perhaps what Jesus offered them when they were alone was something more like lectio divina. What did you hear? What does it say to you? What do you want to say to God in return? Responding to the tentativeness of the search for what the Kingdom of God is like, not the definitive conclusions as to what the kingdom is .
- What in our world is like the Kingdom of God?
- What in our world is unlike the Kingdom of God?
- How do you live your response to the difference?
Photograph of mosaic in Anglican church of Christ the Saviour and St Peter, Eastbourne. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.