Sunday Scripture: Nourishing the kingdom of God
By Father Timothy P. Schehr
Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time: Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34
By this time in summer we can clearly see growth from the seeds planted weeks ago. Each year the miracle of life repeats itself right before our eyes. In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus connects this miracle of nature with the kingdom of God.
Like the plants in our garden, the kingdom of God may begin with something very small. By God’s grace, the word of God may be just like little a seed planted in the ground. To us it may seem insignificant, but by God’s grace, the word can generate great results in the lives of others and truly contribute to the expansion of the kingdom of God. The human heart, like the fertile ground, must receive the seed. But once received, it begins to grow, and if nourished, blossoms into a mature faith.
This chapter of Mark began with the wonderful parable of the sower and the seed. That parable illustrated the various responses people make to the world of God. Some welcome it and let it grow like the most fertile of soils. Others hardly nourish it at all, like stony soil or soil full of weeds. Still others barely let the world of God penetrate into their hearts, like the hard-packed earth of a footpath. But if the word of God is allowed to enter in it can achieve so much…that is the lesson of the parables we hear this Sunday.
The first parable accents the abundance that can be harvested from the seeds that are sown. Like a plentiful harvest, people who respond favorable to God’s word can nourish so many others with the things they say and do.
The second parable features the familiar mustard seed. It is very small but if received into the ground and nourished it becomes so large the birds of the air can use it for shelter. Similarly those who accept the word of God and nourish it can benefit others in ways they never imagined.
It seems the crowds around Jesus were not yet ready to welcome his word and allow it to transform their lives. So Jesus speaks to them in parables only. Parables had the advantage of not arousing the defenses of those who heard them. But if accepted the Lord’s parables might lead to an inner transformation. Jesus was always seeking to give the crowds every advantage to hear his message.
It was different with the Lord’s own disciples. They were interested enough to seek to understand what Jesus as saying as they did with the parable of the sower. So Jesus patiently nourishes their seedling faith. By the end of the Gospel, some of His disciples will be empowered to preach the Gospel to the whole world. But for the present, Jesus must bring them along slowly. In the very next scene, for example, Jesus will chide them for the lack of faith they display during a storm on the sea (Mark 4:35-41).
The first reading contributes to the theme of a small seedling growing into a mature tree. In Ezekiel’s parable, God plucks a tender shoot from a tall cedar. The cedar stands for the royal house of David; the little sprig represents a promised descendant of that royal house. Tradition identifies him as the Messiah. The sprig is tender; it is responsive to God’s will, allowing God to influence its growth. Such will be the ideal king the prophet so longed for during his time of preaching. With such an ideal king in charge, the kingdom will prosper and enjoy true security.
Paul has just the formula to help faith grow. He assures his readers that he walks by faith and not by the light of the sun. This is the kind of strong response to God that is needed for big results.
Father Schehr is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.