|Reading 1||Response||Reading 2||Gospel|
|Ez 17:22-24||Ps 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16||2 Cor 5:6-10||Mk 4:26-34|
God’s kingdom: secret seeds, bushes, and birds
During Ordinary time the Lectionary readings present stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to consider the mystery of God’s kingdom.
The first reading from the prophet Ezekiel describes God’s promises to restore the exiles and to reestablish David’s line. God will plant a cutting from a mighty cedar tree in the heights of Israel. The tree stands for Israel (the restored Davidic dynasty). The birds who come to roost in the branches are the returning exiles (the captives in Babylon). Eventually all nations (“birds of every kind”) will come to recognize the God of Israel. Christians hear Ezekiel’s words fulfilled in Jesus; Jesus is David’s descendant, and Jesus inaugurates God’s messianic kingdom, which is open to all nations. The gospel’s mustard seed parable echoes this theme of including all nations in God’s kingdom.
The second reading continues Paul’s second letter to the ekklesia at Corinth. The overarching theme of 2 Cor is Paul’s defense against false teachers who created confusion in the community. In today’s reading, Paul contrasts “home/away” and “seen/ unseen” to explain how we live between the already and the not yet. Now we all live (“are at home”) in physical bodies, and so we are separated from the risen Christ. Now we know the risen Christ only by faith, since we can no longer see him. Our faith tells us that when we die (“leave our bodies”) we will be with the resurrected Christ. Now we should live as Jesus lived (“aspire to please him”) so that when we meet him (“appear before the judgement seat”), Jesus will recognize us as his disciples (“receive recompense”).
Mark’s gospel is from Jesus’ “day of parables” (Mk 4). We hear two parables and Mark’s summary:
- Parable of the seed growing quietly (v 26-29). This parable is unique to Mark. Jesus reminds his hearers that seeds grow without human intervention. Jesus’ hearers would be surprised that God’s kingdom would come unnoticed, without cataclysmic signs. The kingdom of God develops quietly yet powerfully until God fully establishes the kingdom at the final judgment (Mk 4:29; Rev 14:15).
The parable encourages disciples in Mark’s community who feel their efforts are fruitless, and warns those who think they can bring the kingdom through their own projects and plans.
- Parable of the mustard seed (v 30-32). This parable also appears in Matthew and Luke. Jesus’ hearers would be surprised that God’s kingdom would be present but be unseen. Jesus probably told this parable in response to his opponents’ criticism: if the kingdom of God is here, why can’t we see it? The biblical image of a tree housing many birds symbolizes an empire that grants protection to people of many races and languages (see the first reading). With comic irony Jesus portrays the kingdom not as a lofty cedar tree (first reading), but as a weedy bush.
The parable encourages Mark’s community, which is facing failure and persecution (Mk 13:9-13). Jesus continues to grow the believing community even when they lack faith.
- Mark’s summary (v 33-34). Mark concludes with two important ideas about discipleship:
First, Jesus speaks to the crowd as they are able to hear. The Greek verb ἀκούω means “to hear,” “to listen,” “to understand,” or “to obey.” Mark wants his community to remember that the kingdom grows as a disciple reflects on the parables and embraces their implications, enlarging his or her ability “to hear.”
Second, Jesus explains everything to the disciples privately. The Greek verb ἐπιλύω means “to explain” and is often translated as “to interpret religious or oracular statements.” Mark wants his community to hear Jesus address the needs in their ekklesia: proper moral conduct (Mk 7:17-21), divorce (Mk 10:10-12), and the danger of wealth (Mk 10:23-30).
The readings challenge RCIA candidates and the believing community to consider the mystery of God’s kingdom, and our response as disciples. Jesus describes God’s kingdom as a seed that grows by its own power, and as a tiny seed that grows into a shrub that is home to many birds. The kingdom comes according to God’s plan, not ours. The kingdom comes for everyone, not just for us and our friends. As disciples, we should cooperate with God’s plan. As disciples we should seek to grow the kingdom. Are we promoting God’s agenda, or our own? Do we have faith that the community will grow as God wills, or do we believe we know better?