September 23, 2014
Dear brothers and sisters,
The good news today comes in the form of another parable from Mark 4:30-32.
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.”
Jesus gives us another way to understand the kingdom of God. Imparting this understanding was the whole of point of his mission and ministry. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary states, “[T]he kingdom is enough of a present reality to be described in terms of a growing seed, though God is clearly the one who makes it grow. The point is the smallness of the seed and the greatness of the shrub produced by it, again illustrating the small beginnings of the kingdom and the great result of its arrival in fullness.”
Most everything starts small. Nearly two years ago I saw a photo in the newspaper and immediately I heard the Holy Spirit speak to me. The Spirit told me to begin developing a ministry for elders in our parish. There are about 600 individuals who are aged 65 and older including almost 200 aged 80 and older. With its guidance a committee has worked together for over a year and a half to determine from elders what their needs are and how we can best go about meeting those. This past weekend we finished a recruitment effort seeking volunteers necessary for implementation. Over 130 people signed up! God accomplishes marvelous things — growing a small seed into a luxuriant shrub that will support countless elders like birds in the sky.
Barclay writes, “We often feel that for all that we can do, it is hardly worth while starting a thing at all. But we must remember this — everything must have a beginning. Nothing emerges full-grown. It is our duty to do what we can; and the cumulative effect of all the small efforts can in the end produce an amazing result.” That’s how God operates and makes His kingdom a reality today. The kingdom is a never-ending cycle of sowing and growing and harvesting.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t failures and setbacks and disappointments, but God asks us to persevere in faith, to trust Him to bring forth the kingdom. Moloney in The Gospel of Mark says, “The ultimate fruitfulness of the word of God and the definitive presence of the kingdom of God are assured. There is no cause for discouragement, despite apparent failure and insignificance, God will have the last word.”
Indeed, God has the first word and the last word. As Capon states in The Parables of the Kingdom, “[T]he kingdom is the very thing sown, not something that results from the sowing of a seed other than itself.” John Sanford in The Kingdom Within adds “Jesus saw that the kingdom of heaven begins within a person and is initiated in this present time. It is also in the future because, although it is here now as a potentiality influencing life, its realization is not complete.” So, a small seed may be planted in me and nourished by God, but its final realization will likely be long after I’m out of the picture. The kingdom of God is both here now and in the future. That is a new way of thinking for me that has been gradually developing as I’ve been reading Marks’ gospel. I’ve read and heard all these words before, but they have a new meaning for me today. That’s why it’s important for me to read the gospels again and again and again. It’s not a story to be told; it’s a life to be lived.