Gospel Reflections

11th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Mark 4:26-34

Sunday Gospel Reflection by Sister Marie Andre Mitchell

Published: June 14, 2015


Theme: Trust that God’s Kingdom grows to greatness

The Gospel reading today (Mark 4:26-34) is the conclusion of Mark’s ‘parable chapter.’ It links two seed parables associated with work in the fields to describe and explain the Kingdom of God. Each parable gives an image of the Kingdom, a concept never directly defined in the GospelPage, but only described obliquely through Jesus’ deeds and words. The Rabbis also told many parables of God’s relation to Israel (e.g. Genesis Rabbah). They used to teach that a parable was like a wick of a candle, it is not worth much, but the light it produces may help to discover a treasure.

In the parable of the seed growing by itself (Mk 26-29) which is only found in Mark, the central point of comparison with the Kingdom of God, is the manner in which the seed, once it has been sown grows to maturity without further intervention from the sower. The farmer wakes and sleeps, the seed puts up shoots and ears and “he (the farmer) does not know how” (v.27). Many of the parables involve miraculous appearances and inexplicable growth as a metaphor for the Kingdom; exaggeration for effect is a common rabbinical rhetorical device.

The parable can be understood in a number of ways. It could be a warning to Jesus’ enemies that nothing could stop the growth of the Kingdom or it could be a reassurance to his friends that although they seem to be achieving little, God’s work has begun and despite opposition, will continue. It could also be a challenge to Mark’s community that the Kingdom is the result of God’s own action. The Kingdom of God established on earth by Christ will develop gradually, but nonetheless surely until it reaches its final consummation. The parable thus inculcates patience and confidence in the mysterious plans of God, which will secure the growth of the Kingdom. It is coming as certainly and mysteriously as the harvest eventually follows the sowing of seeds. We need to put our trust in the Word and not in our own efforts. It is God’s Kingdom and God guides the growth of the Kingdom towards future fullness. The parable concludes with an allusion to Joel 4:13 (cf Revelation 14:15) underscoring the eschatological nature of the kingdom.

The second parable, like other seed parables emphasizes the contrast between the smallness of the seed and the greatness of the final harvest. It concerns a mustard seed, said to be the smallest of all seeds on the earth. In the parable it has become the greatest shrub of them all where beneath its shade the birds of air can settle. The imagery is reminiscent of that in Daniel 4:12 and Ezekiel 17:23, 31:6. In reality, mustard plants are invasive shrubs that grow only a few feet high. So the parable like others is satirical and humorous. The parable suggests that the Kingdom arises from a very small beginning and nevertheless grows miraculously. What begins as an insignificant group of Christ’s followers eventually grows into a Christian community that embraces people from all nations. Difficulties and failures can never take away the certainly that in spite of all contrary appearances, the Kingdom of God is growing in the hearts of people. This may have been an encouragement for the disciples not to be discouraged by their own small numbers and lack of resources.

This fresh version of Ezekiel’s allegory (Ezek. 17:22-24) could have been a warning to Jesus’ enemies not to be deceived by the apparent helplessness of Jesus and his disciples. In Ezekiel’s story God has taken a single branch and caused it to grow into an enormous tree. In it, every nation of the earth can find a home.

Bibliography: Armellini, Celebrating the Word Year B. (Paulines Pub. Kenya 1996); Brown, Fitzmyer, Murphy O’Connor eds The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Prentice Hall New Jersey 19); Levine and Brettler eds The Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford University Press 2011); The African Bible (Paulines, Kenya).

 

 

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