My former Hebrew Scriptures professor used to say that there is nothing in the Old Testament that could not be found in the New Testament. This statement rings true for today’s Gospel from Mark. In just a few short verses, there are echoes of those Scriptures as well as our first reading from Ezekiel which points towards the Gospel. Today, Jesus is offering us two insights or parables as to how we “compare” the kingdom of heaven (God). The first part contains a man who sows seeds, they germinate and begin to grow in an orderly fashion while the man sleeps. In a harmonious echo of the Genesis’ creation story, the plant pushes up the blade, ear, and the full grain; and the ”man” does not know how it is happening. (v.27) The prophet Joel is quoted (4:13) when the grain is ripe and ready for harvesting. So, this is “how it is with the kingdom of God” (v.26). At the end of the text, we read that Jesus explained everything in private to his disciples (v.34). Scholars attest to the fact that we have no evidence that he explained anything to them. When I hear this text, I cannot help but think about Fr. Alan Phillip, a member of the Mater Dolorosa community who passed away in early March following a brief illness. Fr. Alan was in parish ministry, he dutifully and joyfully served a local parish community. This past Sunday, he was remembered by that community. After the evening, it was evident the impact Fr. Alan had made on the community, especially the school children. Saint Oscar Romero wrote a beautiful reflection on our role as “Sowers of seeds” and the rest is in God’s hands. We trust divine providence to “grow” the seed. Fr. Alan spent countless hours serving this parish community by sowing seeds of God’s love. How profound, how humble, no doubt, today—in the presence of Revelation—he gives thanks to God for the grace to serve Him. Is there someone in your life that comes to mind? Fr. Alan exemplified the “man who sowed the seeds and allowed them to germinate and bear fruit.”
Biblical Scholar, Amy-Jill Levine, offers insights on the first century Jew and the genre of parable. Telling parables was a tradition in Hebrew life. Levine assures us that Jesus’ audience was well familiar with this rabbinic teaching tool. Further, she warns us second millennia Christians to be careful that we do not domesticate Jesus’ teaching. Parables are used to remind us about the “upside-down” kingdom. We are often tempted to fix Jesus’ words and give them a fine bow as if wrapping a gift. A parable is supposed to teach us new never-ending insights. So, before we find ourselves tempted to install a hammock to sleep away our warm afternoons under this tree, we might reflect on the details of the parable. Biblical scholars are largely in agreement that a mustard seed was not exactly the smallest seed, and eight feet was the most it could grow. Yet, most commentaries will offer the idea that the smallest seed was the growth in the Christian community. Its growth exceeded far beyond a pesty weed—as it was known in Palestine in Jesus’ time—into a large tree with room and shade for all peoples.
I read somewhere that a mature tree can offer a day’s supply of oxygen for four adults. It not only offers shade but oxygen—life-giving breath. Imagine you are resting in your hammock under this large tree with shade for every bird. What might you experience? Loud noise, bird droppings, interruptions, surprises? Perhaps, it is not quite what you expected? Are you being invited to take a deeper look? We each find the kingdom at work in our own lives. How does Jesus’ teaching strike you, today?
So, let us enter into this day as seed-bearers of the love of God. May we offer this gift to the future of our world. Amen.
Jean Bowler is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California, and a member of the Office of Mission Effectiveness Board of Holy Cross Province.