11th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 14th June 2015

"How valuable and unique our ordinary lives are"


Scripture Reading – Mark 4:26-34

Jesus said to the crowds, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man throws seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, he loses no time: he starts to reap because the harvest has come.’
He also said, ‘What can we say the kingdom of God is like? What parable can we find for it? It is like a mustard seed which at the time of its sowing in the soil is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.’
Using many parables like these, he spoke the word to them, so far as they were capable of understanding it. He would not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything to his disciples when they were alone.

REFLECTION

The poet, Paddy Kavanagh describing the presence of God in the ordinary says:
“It was the garden of golden apples,
A long garden between a railway and a road,
In the sow’s rooting where the hen scratches
We dipped our fingers into the pockets of God.”
This Sunday, the Church’s calendar, re-connects with Ordinary Time. Week 11 of ordinary time to be exact. In Ordinary Time none of the great feasts are celebrated.

We tend to use the word ordinary to describe run-of-the-mill stuff. And, unless we’re like Narcissus, who died entranced by his own beauty, we see ourselves as ordinary, living ordinary lives. Nothing special.

But hold on a moment. Didn’t God Himself became one of us. An ordinary child born in a stable. He lived 30 of his 33 years on this earth in a humdrum, ordinary way, in a small, backwater village, called Nazareth. He was seen as nothing special. Isn’t he just carpenter’s son they said, and Can anything good come of Nazareth?

But in living this, ‘non-special life’, for 30 years Jesus was making a profound statement about how incredibly valuable and unique our ordinary lives are. He continually invites us to see beyond to the deep mystery of our being and our world.

When Jesus left his home in Nazareth to tell us about the mystery of the Kingdom God, he brought with him the simplicity of ordinary language. He invited us to reflect on wonderful metaphors and imagery from his own rural surroundings.

Today’s Gospel tells us two such marvellous little parables about scattering seeds and bushes growing. At first sight, beguilingly simple.

But they shattered the illusion, which the people had, that the Kingdom of God would come about through some cataclysmic event or military power.
His contemporaries must have been shocked to hear him say: The reign of God is like somebody planting seeds and then losing control over the process. New life happens but it is God who is in charge. When the harvest comes we get it all.

The reign of God, he says, is like a small mustard seed planted into the darkness of the earth, promising nothing. But, from that tiny seed a great bush will grow, which will welcome anybody who wants to accept its shade and shelter. We are all invited to his kingdom. Through the goodness of our lives we too will, often unbeknownst to ourselves, scatter seeds. And it is God himself who will give the growth and the increase. We just have to trust Him.

In the meantime: May we too dip our fingers into the pockets of God as we go about our ordinary lives.

INTRODUCTION TO LECTIO DIVINA

Preaching the Kingdom of God was Jesus’ principal occupation during his public ministry, and his most constant preoccupation. Normally Jesus preferred to speak about God in parables, short stories that are familiar to us nowadays. Jesus made use of them to tell us what God is like, and how he acts in his dealings with us. To get to know Jesus intimately, and to discover what he thought about God and his kingdom, we need to go back and listen again to the parables, as if we were hearing them for the first time. To do this we have to make a real effort. If we allow ourselves to be surprised by some little detail, or pay attention to a hint that may be given, we will marvel at the way God acts towards us, and the love he has for us in his heart. In fact, the parables describe for us the God in whom Jesus believed and whom he preached – a God so close to life and the way we live that, for Jesus, speaking about life was speaking about God.

LECTIO DIVINA

I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it

Jesus went back to the lakeside, the scene of many important missionary decisions. It was the place he had chosen for the call of his first disciples (Mk 1, 16-20; 2, 13). It was there, too, with a boat as his pulpit, that he taught the crowds (Mk 3, 7-9).  Mark does not dedicate much space in his gospel to the teaching of Jesus (Mk 7, 1-23; 13, 1-37), but he presents the kingdom and some of its fundamental laws, with images contained in parables (Mk 4, 1-34). This is a faithful portrayal of the typical preaching of Jesus who habitually spoke about God in terms taken from daily life. This way of speaking about God was not just a pedagogical device, nor a way of drawing close to his listeners and helping them to understand. It came from his own personal faith, lived in the experience of Israel. Life itself is a word of God. Listening to life is a way of letting God speak. The parables reveal God, because everyday life is the place where God acts and an example of how he acts.

Jesus was aware that a few of his audience had already decided to follow him (Mk 1, 16-20; 2, 13-17) but many were indifferent and even opposed to his teaching (Mk 2,1-12; 3,1-6.22-30). He was an experienced evangeliser. The hope and optimism his words induced were not the fruit of his imagination, nor proof of his cleverness. He has already tasted failure and opposition, but he continues to trust in the success of his work of evangelisation. The reason for his optimism is to be found, not in the fruit of his labours, but in his own certainty that the gospel, if it is listened to and accepted, always produces fruit. Jesus has already acknowledged as his intimate friends those around him who listen to his words and do the will of God (Mk 3, 31-35). It is not enough, then, to be near him and to listen attentively. They must put his teaching into practice.

It is important to note that, after stating very clearly the requirement that they are to do his will, he now speaks about God and his kingdom cryptically, in parables, to anyone who wants to listen, (Mk 4, 2. 34). It is important for him that people pay attention to his message, so he does not speak clearly to all. Jesus preaches to all the people at the lakeside (Mk 4, 1-9), but the explanation is given only to those who have decided to follow him (Mk 4, 10-12). It is not by mere chance that he speaks of the kingdom in parables. He has a definite reason (Mk 4, 10-12). It is not easy to understand what he is saying, just as it is not easy to put it into practice (Mk 4, 12). He does not speak with the same openness to all, because not all have been given the grace to enter the mystery of God. More will be asked of those who receive a clearer teaching in private (Mk 4, 10-25.33-34). The more clearly the kingdom is presented, the greater the understanding and commitment it demands.

II. Meditate:  apply what the text says to life

Right from the beginning of his ministry, Jesus met with failure in his preaching. It is quite likely that these two parables are a first attempt by Jesus to respond to this failure. They offer evidence of his faith in the hidden creative power of the kingdom. Like the farmer sowing seed, Jesus believed that the word he was sowing would grow, even though he did not know how. He knew beyond doubt that God would make the seed sprout, slowly but surely, to produce his will in the world. The life-force of the seed is powerful enough to recover from its apparent destruction. The smallest of seeds carries within it a tree that will offer shelter to all the birds of the air. Both images illustrate the nature of the kingdom of God, and testify to the preacher’s personal conviction. If we understand that what is happening is a miracle of God, then our daily life becomes a miracle. If we see things with the eyes of Jesus, we will know that God is never far away.

This is why Jesus could speak about the kingdom with stories from everyday life, as in today’s gospel passage. The seed which is sown germinates and grows until the time of harvest, without any effort on the part of the sower. Jesus saw in this an analogy with the kingdom of God. Although the kingdom was not yet visible, Jesus could be sure that it was working away quietly. God’s activity does not cease, even if we stop paying attention to it, The God whom Jesus preached and whom we believe in, is a God who continues to live and work in the world. His action is sometimes invisible and unknown but is always effective, just like the seed that germinates and continues to grow, though we do not know how. He is a God whom we know to be present, not because we have seen him personally, but because his works are always increasing. The sower knows that the seed will produce fruit, whether he sleeps or stays awake, though he does not know how or why. In the same way, the Christian knows that God is building his kingdom in this world, imperceptibly but inexorably, despite the opposition of his enemies and the sins of his friends. The earth goes on producing fruit by itself, as Jesus says. God never ceases to give life to the world.

The certitude that Jesus had should produce certainty in us. He was sure of having God in his life, just as the sower was sure of having the seed in his field. And he depended on the power and efficacy of the seed. With this simple image, Jesus encourages us to put our trust in God, despite any doubts or lack of evidence. We cannot see God but we know that he is there. We can be sure of his presence even though he remains invisible. We can count on him, even though we cannot touch him with our hands. We know that he is alive and active in our world and in our hearts, without seeing him and without experiencing him in any way. It is enough that we have faith the size of a mustard seed! If we had a bit more faith, then we ourselves would be the miracle. The change that would take place in us would be greater and more wonderful even than the transformation of a small seed into a large shrub.

This parable of Jesus reveals one of the laws of nature and of faith. In the smallest and most ordinary things, in things that happen and pass unnoticed, the hidden God is at work. If we are unable to intuit his presence, it does not mean that he is not there! We see only what we want to see. If we allowed ourselves to marvel at the ordinary little things that happen around us and in us, then surely we would feel the presence of God. It is only because we have not enough faith to discover his presence, that we do not experience wonder and surprise at his presence. He is closer to us than our most intimate thoughts and desires.

If we believe in this hidden but active God, we find the peace that only God can give, an inner peace that no one can take from us. That inner peace becomes so evident that people who do not share our faith and the security it brings, are envious of us. The peace of those who believe in the God of Jesus is not a product of financial security, nor of compromise. It comes, rather, from the certainty that God is with us, as long as we live and as long we suffer. Anyone who is sure of God’s presence in his life and in the world, does not lose interest in life or in the world. That would mean losing interest in God who is present in the world. The Christian who seeks to preserve his faith by fleeing from the world because he thinks it is not good, or opting out of society because it seems to be hostile, is losing faith in the God of Jesus. For this very reason, he will not be able to live at peace with himself or with the world.

However, the believer knows, like Jesus, that God’s way of acting is similar to that of the seed buried in the ground. Like the sower, he has patience enough to wait for an abundant harvest. Think of what we deprive ourselves of when our faith is not of the kind that Jesus wants to inculcate in us! We fail to see the fruits of God’s work, in us and in others, because we do not wait in hope for the right moment to come. Anyone who reaps before time has no right to complain if the harvest is small. The God of Jesus is a God who acts in our world like the seed buried in the field. He allows us to live in hope, without the daily worry that robs us of sleep. He does not feel the need to enjoy the fruits of his labour today, but is willing to wait in hope for the day of the harvest. “In vain is your earlier rising and your going later to rest … [God] pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber.” Those who pray know this to be true.

People who allow themselves to be convinced by Jesus and his preaching about the Kingdom, find inner peace in the midst of tribulation. They find joy in life even when death threatens. They are able to wait for the good they cannot yet see, and they trust that the evil they suffer will one day be overcome. We are free from all worry when we know that we are the object of God’s attention, and that he is working away silently and secretly behind the evils that oppress us, and in the people around us. Our only concern is to have faith and trust, cost what it may. If God is already at work, then the world must become a better place since it is the object of his attention. We can never lose hope when we know from the teaching of Jesus that we are God’s field, the field that he himself cultivates and cares for.

Today’s believers should not lose hope or be discouraged by the problems of society, nor should we be like those who have given up hope of a better world. We know that God is at work. We can be his co-workers, sharing his hopes and his fatigue, while we work for a better world. Working shoulder to shoulder with God – this in itself is our reward, the best possible recompense. Could we wish for anything better?

PRAYER

Lord God,
strength of those who hope in you,
support us in our prayer:
because we are weak
and can do nothing without you,
give us always the help of your grace
so that, in fulfilling your commandments,
we may please you in all we desire and do.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

HYMN

Christ is the world’s redeemer,
The lover of the pure,
The font of heavenly wisdom,
Our trust and hope secure,
The armour of his soldiers,
The Lord of earth and sky,
Our health while we are living,
Our life when we shall die.

Down in the realm of darkness,
He lay a captive bound,
But at the hour appointed
He rose a victor crowned.
And now, to heaven ascended,
He sits upon a throne,
Whence he had ne’er departed,
His Father’s and his own.

All glory to the Father,
The unbegotten One,
All honour be to Jesus,
His sole-begotten Son;
And to the Holy Spirit,
The perfect Trinity,
Let all the worlds give answer,
Amen — so let it be.