16 June 2024

Lectionary Readings: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Ps 92; 2 Cor 5:6-10; Mk 4:26-34

Theme: With what can we compare the kingdom of God?” (Mk 4:30)

The obvious answer  we might offer to this question would seem to be  an earthly kingdom on a large scale, such as the Roman Empire, or the British Empire on which it was said that  ‘the sun never set’ because it encompassed so much of the world. But Jesus was not in the business of providing obvious answers.  In these verses from the Gospel of Mark, the kingdom is compared   to a man sowing seed and not just any seed but mustard seed, described as “the smallest of all seeds on earth …[which] becomes the greatest of all shrubs.”  Lakhanon, the word translated as ‘shrub’ can mean a ‘garden plant’ or ‘vegetable’.  Its ‘root’ meaning comes from the word for ‘dig’.  The kingdom of God is being compared to something small, homely, ordinary.  Of course, size is relative.  The mustard plant may not seem very impressive to us but those who heard Jesus speak would know that it could grow to a size large enough that “birds could shelter in the shade of [its] large branches.”  (Bryne, 90) Mustard could be useful and helpful, not only by providing a tasty condiment for human use, but also  to other living creatures, provided they were small enough.  

Here are some insights we can take from this parable. One is that the best we can do is just that – the best we can do. That others can contribute more whether in money, time or talent, does not mean that we should be ashamed of what we offer or that we should excuse ourselves from making any effort at all.  This, of course, is also the teaching of the story of the widow’s mite. (Mk 12; Lk 21) The widow’s life is hard enough and without her two small coins will be harder still.  Jesus calls her tiny offering worth more than the large sums given by the wealthy, money which they might not even miss.            Another insight is that there is much in our lives that is beyond our control. The tiny seed grows because it has come to rest in the nurturing earth and not on a hard stone.  The seeds cannot change the weather or the soil to suit themselves, just as we could not choose our parents or the nation or the faith in which we were born. Just as the mustard seed was sown by human hands, we depended on others to bring us into the membership of the faith in which we were raised.

Finally, this parable reminds us of the importance of paying attention to the world around us, even to what is seemingly small and unimportant.

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. A member of the clergy once said to me that she could never be sure if the members of her congregation were listening to her sermon or sleeping in the pews with their eyes open. How much of life do we go through that way? How can we learn to be more attentive?  2. In the interest of botanical correctness, the mustard seed is not the smallest of seeds –apparently the orchid seed is. (Byrne, 90, n. 42)  

Bibliography: Byrne, Brendan, A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel (Collegeville MN: 2008); Levine, Amy-Jill, Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi (Harper Collins NY:2014)

This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Anne Morton, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna: 2010

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