First Reading: Ezekiel 17:22-24
Psalm: Ps 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16
Second Reading: 2 Cor 5:6-10
Gospel Reading: Mk 4:26-34
TODAY'S QUESTION: How can we compare our lives to that of the parable of the Mustard Seed?
It always somewhat surprises me how close to nature people were during Biblical times. So many of their metaphors are drawn from the natural world. In this century, the natural world is not one that many of us live in for very long – we settle into our sofas or computer chairs a lot, and while there is, today, much more emphasis on the natural environment and what we are doing to our natural world, and how we need to protect it, few of us have really spent a lot of time in it any more.
In any case, all of the readings today depend upon natural world images to make their point. The Biblical writers wanted to take things that were familiar to their listeners and fashion their lesson around those, so that its images would be more common and easier to understand. So let’s look closer at the images in the readings today.
In the First Reading Ezekiel speaks for God using the metaphor of a tree. In fact, the metaphor is so precise, one would almost think that God is talking about what he can do with trees. But what it really is, is a metaphor about God’s creation and his kingdom, and how people will respond to it. In beautiful poetic language God speaks of taking a twig and planting it on a high mountain and how it will grow into a lofty cedar. This is the kingdom of heaven – God has planted it and it is growing and bearing fruit just as the cedar. And why is God doing this? So that birds, birds of every kind, can nest in its branches. In the metaphor, we people of earth are the birds. There is room in this tree for us and for people of every kind. The last line: “I will accomplish it” is a hopeful statement for Israel and for us. The kingdom of heaven will be brought about. God will accomplish it.
Similarly, in today’s psalm, Psalm 92 a metaphor is used, but this time it is we who are the trees. We are cedars and we are palm trees that will be planted in the kingdom of heaven, the house of the Lord. And we will flourish and we will grow, and even in our old age we will continue to bear fruit for the kingdom. Again, such a hopeful, optimistic look at God’s kingdom.
The letter of Paul also uses nature but this time it is the human body that becomes the metaphor. Paul states that we are at home in our bodies, but because they are physical, part of nature, we cannot see the spiritual things that are now there and will be there for us in the kingdom. We have to go on blind faith because we cannot see. But while in our bodies and by using our faith, we act morally so that we will please God and be ready for God when our bodies die.
The Gospel today continues this natural world theme and contains a couple of parables or metaphors for the kingdom of heaven. As we know, Jesus used parables quite a bit in his teaching because he could draw on things that the people knew, and because parables made people think as well. When they had to ponder the meaning of something, people stayed with the idea longer and it became part of their thinking, while they might not listen to someone just delivering a moral or telling us how we should behave.
There are two main metaphors Jesus uses today when he compares the kingdom of heaven to something to help us understand it. The first involves planting.
There are few of us who have not planted something in our lives. I don’t have a green thumb, but even I know that if I take the initiative to take a seed, put it in the ground and water it, something miraculous seems to happen. My biology is not great, nor do I care much how the seed does its thing, but without me, it grows into a plant, it sprouts blossoms and the blossoms turn to whatever it was I planted. I simply initiated the process and then ate the fruit of it, or enjoyed the flower of it. Jesus’ point here seems to be that God is really in charge – very much like we saw in the First Reading. There is little I can do to achieve the kingdom of heaven by myself. It is in God’s hands. Perhaps I have to plant the faith originally and nurture it a bit, but it God who does the work. I just need to wait for the harvest of the heavenly kingdom. For Christians, God’s work has been his redemption through Jesus and if we have planted it in baptism, we can trust that God – as we heard in the First reading – will accomplish it! This should give us great hope!
The second parable of Jesus here, also drawing from nature and planting is the parable of the Mustard Seed. There may have been a little exaggeration in this parable because mustard seeds, while they grow to large plants of sometimes 9 feet, certainly are not the greatest of all shrubs; however, Jesus still makes his point. We have to keep remembering that this is about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus says that the kingdom starts out small like a mustard seed, but without our help, it grows into a huge thing that shelters all the birds of the air. An added point about mustard bushes is that they are like weeds. Once they grow and drop their seeds, it is almost impossible to get rid of them. Jesus may have been drawing on this knowledge as well in his choice of the mustard seed. No-one will be able to root out the kingdom once it has been planted. And Jesus has planted it.
So what can we take home today from all the natural metaphors that we have heard today. Hopefully, it will be more than – water your plants faithfully! – though that metaphor might not be too far off. I would like you to think about the fact that at your baptisms and confirmations you planted your seed of faith. Let God into your lives to do the work. Let God do it. He has prepared the kingdom for you and he has set in progress the means, the grace, to allow you to reach the kingdom. Let God do it. Listen in silence and let the work go on. It is a process initiated at Baptism and will take till our deaths. On the way, we get tastes of the kingdom, we land in the tree occasionally and see what can be. Let God into your daily life, accept his help, his grace, his love. Through Christ we are destined to make nests in God’s shade. Trust in that and as Paul says: make it your aim to please him. Our hope will then be fulfilled.
And this is the Good News I bring you from out of the natural world images today.