When small is beautiful- Friday, 3rd week in ordinary time- Mark 4: 26-34
The ‘Kingdom of God’ is back into focus with two parables, both using the example of seeds. Interestingly, the sacred writers never limit the description or definition of the Kingdom of God. For them it is always ‘like’ leaving room for the ever growing possibilities that God can bring His kingdom to.
Any farmer in Jesus’ audience listening to Him would have been left puzzled both at the deceptive simplicity of the first parable, and with a bit of shock at the second (4:30-32). The Kingdom of God and mustard seeds simply don’t belong in the same sentence! The mustard bush is a garden pest and no one would sow it on purpose. It grows all too readily on its own, and once it appears, it takes over the field. The small size of the mustard seed may be proverbial (Matt. 17:20; Luke 17:6), but it is not the smallest seed, nor is the mustard bush the largest of all shrubs. So there must be an explanation for the exaggeration.
Let us begin with the point of the parables. The arrangements of the parables are all related to the Kingdom. The Early Church that read Mark’s Gospel lived in the shadow of political and religious persecution. There may have been some in Mark’s community who wanted to hurry the coming of the Kingdom by taking up arms against the Romans.
Also, Christianity was yet an infantile faith in the face of well-established religious creeds whose structures vied for superiority in the Roman world. The possibility of an inferiority feeling may have well crept into the hearts of the early Christians; would their faith ever propagate as had the other religions?
So, even though the superlatives are inaccurate, the contrast between a small seed and a large plant fits well as an image for the reign of God. It would have been good news to people aware of the small beginnings of Jesus’ ministry or of their own struggling community. The almost predatory ability of the mustard plant could crowd out the planned crops of the Romans and bring about God’s Kingdom.
Thus, the intended message of these parables was to give hope and encouragement to the followers of Christ in Rome. They were not to lose heart in the apparent slow growth of the kingdom, for just as the seed was small, the greatness would be seen in the final harvest. This growth, like the sprouting seed happens silently, yet surely; its coming is certain, yet mysterious and hence the Christians were not to give in to discouragement or impatience.
The seeds are planted by Christ, and it is these that take root in the Kingdom. It is Christ who will come in at the harvest with sickle in hand, ushering in the last judgment. The emphasis of the parables is on God’s hidden and gradual action in bringing about the Kingdom; no matter the size of its beginning or its methodology employed.
The choice of the mustard seed is deliberate; it indicates the potentiality of the small seed to become a great shrub thus drawing an immediate analogy to the rapid, yet silent growth of the Kingdom. To the Christians living in 65 BC this was Good News.
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