The victory of the Lord is certain, but there is something for us to do ...
“This is how it is with the kingdom of God;it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the landand would sleep and rise night and dayand through it all the seed would sprout and grow,he knows not how.Of its own accord the land yields fruit,first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once,for the harvest has come.”—Mark 4:26-29
Ordinary Time can seem, well … ordinary. And yet, while we aren’t celebrating any particular feast or event in the life of Jesus during these days (at least not in the same way we do during Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter), these days are anything but ordinary. In fact, these are privileged days when we have an opportunity to reflect on and begin to use the gifts that we have received during those sacred seasons. The color green is a symbol of the growth and vitality that should mark our faith during the days of Ordinary Time.
As I mentioned in the reflection on the readings for this past Sunday, the readings from the Gospel of Mark proclaimed over the next few Sundays invite us to reflect on who Jesus was and is for us, especially as we begin to hear his proclamation of the Reign of God. And this proclamation forms the foundation for the two parables proclaimed this Sunday.
Beginning with the very ordinary action of a farmer scattering seeds—an image that would have been all-too-familiar in Jesus’ day—Jesus invites his hearers to recognize a deeper truth embodied in the symbol of a growing seed. Here, the seed represents the Word of God. By the work of the Spirit, the Word takes fruit and becomes a source of nourishment and vitality when it is given a chance to come to maturity in the minds and hearts of those who receive it. Pope Francis has reflected on this parable in this way:
In the language of the Gospel, the seed is the symbol of the Word of God, whose fruitfulness is recalled in this parable. As the humble seed grows in the earth, so too does the Word by the power of God work in the hearts of those who listen to it. God has entrusted his Word to our earth, that is to each one of us with our concrete humanity. We can be confident because the Word of God is a creative word, destined to become the “full grain in the ear” (v. 28). This Word, if accepted, certainly bears fruit, for God Himself makes it sprout and grow in ways that we cannot always verify or understand. (cf. v. 27). All this tells us that it is always God, it is always God who makes his Kingdom grow.
The Word of God—an expression of the Reign of God—takes root and grows in the deepest recesses of who we are. And, as the First Reading (taken from the prophecy of Ezekiel) makes very clear, the work of bringing this to fruition is actually God’s work. Our task is to be open and to try to remove whatever it is in our lives—bad habits, unhealthy relationships, agendas, and attachments—which might prevent the Word from bearing fruit in our lives.
But there is another way we can read this text, which, I believe, is well suited to these days of Ordinary Time. Note that in the Gospel text, Jesus tells the crowd that the seed is sown. It doesn’t simply magically appear or fall like manna from heaven. A farmer needs to spread the seed. This task of spreading the seed of the Word is entrusted to each of us as followers of Jesus. Through our words and, especially, through the witness of our lives, we should spread the seed of the Word near and far.
This can happen in countless ways each day, not only in the words of faith we speak, but in small acts of generosity, a smile for a stranger, a kind word to someone who is suffering, or in our pursuit of justice for the poor and marginalized. In these parables, Jesus promises that God will take these seeds and allow them to grow into something more than we might ever have imagined. The work is ultimately God’s, but we have an indispensable part to play in promoting the Reign of God in the world today!
When have seeds of faith and hope been planted in your life? Who “scattered” those seeds for you?How have you experienced the mystery of the Reign of God unfolding in your life? Was it something quick and dramatic, or a gradual process of becoming? What do the words of the Jesus teach us about what the Church can and should be?
Words of Wisdom: “God’s Kingdom requires our cooperation, but it is above all the initiative and gift of the Lord. Our weak effort, seemingly small before the complexity of the problems of the world, when integrated with God’s effort, fears no difficulty. The victory of the Lord is certain: his love will make every seed of goodness present on the ground sprout and grow. This opens us up to trust and hope, despite the tragedies, the injustices, the sufferings that we encounter. The seed of goodness and peace sprouts and develops, because the merciful love of God makes it ripen.”—Pope Francis