Ezekiel 17, 22-24; 2 Cor. 5, 6-10; Mark 4, 26-34.
In the way we normally judge reality, it is easy to become cynical and to believe more in the determinism of the systems and mechanisms of society and politics than in the hope of possible new beginnings. The prophet Ezekiel in the first reading and Jesus in the gospel speak about what we can term a revolutionary patience.
It hardly sounds realistic to keep believing, as St Mark reiterates in his gospel, that new hopes and new beginnings can start simply from “a man throwing seeds on the land”. We believe more in the dominant power of the economy, in the penetrating influence of social media, and in the hidden networks of corruption, and less in the axiom of medieval theologian and St Thomas Aquinas that bonum est diffusivum sui (goodness always tends to spread).
“It belongs to the essence of goodness to communicate itself to others,” affirms Aquinas. This is a strong affirmation for us in times when evil is so inflated and seems to hit the headlines with much more punch than goodness. Today’s gospel, in contrast, highlights the kingdom of God not as a structure of a political or social nature as we conceived it to be in our struggle to Christianise society.
The kingdom of God is mainly one of love, justice, equality, dignity, goodness and peace. It is significant that the metaphor the gospel uses to depict it is the ‘seed’, which night and day, whether we sleep or are awake, “is sprouting and growing”. And the gospel concludes: “How, we do not know”. In his letter to the Corinthians, St Paul seems to touch on this when he speaks of our humanness and distinguishes between “going as we do by faith and not by sight”. There is so much good that remains hidden and yet has a healing effect on all of society.
St Mark says that once the seed is in the ground, growth takes place “of itself”, as if to insist that growth comes about independently of the efforts of cultivation. The similitude at a second instance of the mustard seed can be seen as highlighting also the disproportion in the early Christian communities of small discipleship communities in their struggle with the powers that be of the time. Just as Ezekiel in the first reading uses the parable of the growth of the cedar tree to contrast the expansion of Egypt, so Mark had the Roman Empire in mind.
Coming to our times, we need to come to terms with the revolutionary patience invoked by the Scriptures. ‘Revolutionary patience’ may sound a contradiction in terms. We may think that revolution cannot be patient, and that patience is not revolutionary. Yet no change that is deep and long term can be quick. Real change is never a quick fix. And the changes that the gospel of Jesus Christ particularly advocates are ones that touch people’s hearts and are never meant to involve the masses.
As author Ched Myers comments in his reading of Mark, when we come to present-day Christian commitment, “it is a matter of finding the right soil and trusting that the seed will grow”. This inevitably brings us to our mission today, as a Church and as committed disciples. Trusting in the power of God’s word and presence is only part of what we believe in. Finding the right soil is about strategy which should be part and parcel of our mission in today’s world.
It means identifying the new spaces we need to address, communicating in ways that are comprehensible, and excogitating new ways and new attitudes of connecting meaningfully with people where the seed of goodness and of the Gospel may grow and flourish to enhance the solace that comes from faith.
This is today a life and death issue for our Christian communities where we are committed not simply to be closed in on ourselves and in our cosy corners and churches, but mainly to witness to the power of goodness in overcoming evil and making society more humane.