Thus says the Lord God: I, too, will take from the crest of the cedar, from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot, and plant it on a high and lofty mountain; on the mountain heights of Israel I will plan it. It shall put forth branches and bear fruit, and become a majestic cedar. Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it, every winged thing in the shade of its boughs. And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the Lord, bring low the high tree, lift high the lowly tree, wither up the green tree, and make the withered tree bloom. As I, the Lord, have spoken, so will I do.(P) The word of the Lord.
It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praise to your name, Most High, to proclaim your kindness at dawn and your faithfulness throughout the night. (R)
The just one shall flourish like the palm tree, like a cedar of Lebanon shall he grow. They that are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. (R)
They shall bear fruit even in old age; vigorous and sturdy shall they be, declaring how just is the Lord, my rock, in whom there is not wrong. (R)
Brothers and sisters: We are always courageous, although we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.
Therefore, we aspire to please him, whether we are at home or away. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus said to the crowds: "This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and 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."
He said to them, "To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade." With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it. Without parables he did not speak to them, but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
After His baptism in the River Jordan, Jesus went into villages and towns throughout Palestine, teaching in synagogues and preaching the good news about the Kingdom of God. "The Kingdom of God" was the central message of Jesus' teaching. What is the "Kingdom of God"? The Kingdom of God really means God's rule and reign on earth; it means that God will one day usher in a kingdom of peace, righteousness, happiness and prosperity on earth - a place that will be as perfect as it is in heaven, just as we pray for it in the "Our Father Prayer". That is the goal of God for the whole universe.
Jesus taught about God and about His Kingdom both in plain speech and in parables. Parables are illustrations taken from circumstances and situations of everyday life. Jesus' parables came from farming, fishing, shepherding, household life and nature, to convey a moral or spiritual lesson. These parables helped people understand what Jesus was teaching. When His disciples failed to believe or understand what Jesus was talking about, He explained the parables to them in private.
In Mark's gospel there are six parables that related to the kingdom of God. Today's gospel reading consists of two parables about seeds. In the first parable, Jesus speaks about a farmer who sows seeds and which grow without his knowing and understanding. The farmer does not go and dig everyday to see if the seed has germinated. All he does is work the ground, sow the seed, water it or wait for rain whichever helps the seed to sprout. When it starts to grow, the farmer removes the weeds plus puts manure around it; thereafter, he again waits patiently for his seeds to produce fruit. When the grain ripens, he harvests his crops. No crop appears overnight; neither does the farmer have control over the weather. He must have patience with the seeds and the crops for it takes time for seed to germinate, sprout, grow and bear fruits.
So, a farmer sows the seeds and leaves it to nature to do its work. If he is a believer, then he asks God to bless the seeds sown and wait for Him to do so. It is a work of faith, James (5:7-8). The seed seemingly has the power to grow on its own. Jesus says that, just as the seed grows mysteriously and miraculously, so too does the kingdom of God which He has planted on this earth through His incarnation, teaching, miracles, suffering and death, grow quietly, almost imperceptibly and invisibly. Although already present in Jesus and his group of twelve, and in the church, the kingdom of God has yet to be fully established. Just as the seed in the parable needs time to grow, so does God's kingdom.
In the second parable, Jesus speaks of a mustard seed. Mustard seeds, sized about 1-2 millimetres in diameter, are smaller than all other seeds. But when it is fully grown, it can be larger than many other plants, about nine to twelve feet high and just as wide; moreover, it can provide shelter and shade for birds. The mustard plants are quite common in the fields around the Sea of Galilee. Illustrating the spectacular growth of a mustard seed, how something very small can grow or expand into something very large that birds can come and rest under its leaves, Jesus points out its similarity to the Kingdom of God initiated by Him that starts out very small but eventually would become an attractive, welcoming and comforting place for many people in the world.
Jesus probably told these two parables in the context of a doubt in the minds of His disciples as to whether Jesus' ministry and mission to establish the reign of God in the world would succeed at all, against all odds, since Jewish authorities were outright against Him plus there was no dramatic and visible success from His work.
What is the message for us?
Today's world is very different from that in Jesus' time. Especially over the last hundred years, the world has changed tremendously; it has advanced so rapidly in science and technology. Until very recently, if you wanted to go somewhere and did not know the way, you asked for directions from another person. But now, no matter where you are going, Google Maps can suggest the best route for you or you can plan a route, pull up schedules, get step-by-step directions, or ask Siri to guide you. And if you get lost, you can even ask Siri to lead you home. The world has also seen a great progress in economic development and material well-being across the globe. It has achieved a significant improvement in quality of life through treating diseases and increasing life expectancy. It has also seen significant decreases in absolute poverty.
However, we are facing the same old problems over and over again. We continuously struggle with impatience, anxiety, despair and greed. We are all caught up in the world of immediate, no-wait, instant gratification, reflective of the quick-fix world. We crave for fast and instant results. We are caught up in our own lives, our own needs, our own ego gratification. We do not like it when the world around moves at a slow pace.
Because of this, any delay in anything irritates us and drives us mad. We get discouraged by the small beginnings of any good work; fewer people are listening to good advice and equally fewer Christians are seriously following Jesus' teaching, etc. When we do not see instant results of our good work and guidance, or when we face resistance or opposition to our good works, we are tempted to give it up altogether. We have tendencies to become impatient even over the slightest things and over-anxious when results do not turn out as we wished them so.
In the midst of these realities, these two parables advocate hope, patience and faith, instead of impatience, despair, and discouragement. They speak of the small and insignificant beginnings of any work done for God and His mission, that is, for the Kingdom of God, with the certainty of its tremendous outcome and wonderful result in God's own time. For instance, when you are trying to mend fences with a person and he or she is stonewalling, the natural, human reaction is to get mad and resentful. But you need patience to continue being kind and nice when you are getting little or no reinforcement.
Let us not forget that the Kingdom of God is a divine accomplishment and not human; but of course, nurtured with human efforts. We cannot make the kingdom grow by our own power, but by God's power alone. This grows naturally and gradually, instead of suddenly and dramatically: just like a seed, it has power to sprout and grow when it is sown as per its nature. So, we must wait patiently for the seeds of faith and love to bear fruit. What does being patient mean?
Patience does not mean doing nothing or tolerating bad situations quietly and calmly. Rather it is about perseverance and endurance; it is about submission and surrender to Almighty God. That is, you move forward, stay on course until the promised blessings come or be faithful to God even when things are not going your way. Just as we need to surrender to the natural order of things in growing crops, so too each of us need to do our part in building the holy kingdom and wait patiently for God to bring about the result.
We need to trust in Jesus who gives us hope that just as the mustard seed becomes a large plant and gives shelter to birds of the air, the Kingdom which He started very small with a few fishermen will one day become very large to encompass all peoples and nations here on earth, Daniel (2:31-45); 1 Corinthians (15:24-25). The work of yielding fruit is done by God secretly, without our knowledge, while we sleep and rise up as today's parable says, as we go about our normal duties, Mark (4:27).
The Kingdom of God is already in place and it is here and now in all those who believe in and follow Jesus. Through the centuries, the church has been instrumental in the extension of the kingdom worldwide and invites all believers to contribute to God's kingdom while on earth through the good deeds that we do during our life. That good consists of both kindness to others and in whatever way we use our God-given talents and gifts toward the building of God's kingdom. Furthermore, all those who love God and neighbours constitute the Kingdom of God on earth.
When Saint Mother Teresa had begun to work for the poor in India in 1948, she wanted to build an orphanage. When she informed the superior at the convent that God had told her to build an orphanage, the Mother Superior asked Teresa how much money she had. When she replied "5 Rupees," the superior asked her what she expected to build with 5 Rupees. It is said that Teresa replied, "I have 5 Rupees and faith" and, I can build anything with that." Teresa went on to rent a small hut for five rupees per month for the homeless and the dying. She started small but today her work has spread around the world.
Teresa's example is a shining beacon to us all. We all can live in ways that will continue to help advance God's Kingdom by walking the simple path that Teresa has laid out for us.
I leave you with a few quotes from Saint Teresa herself:
Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.
We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean, but the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.
If you can't feed a hundred people then feed just one.
I alone cannot change the world but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.
Do not wait for leaders, do it alone person to person.
What can you do for world peace? Go home and love your family.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!