Parables and Kingdom, June 17, 2012, Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
PARABLES AND KINGDOM Mark 4:26-34 June 17, 2012 Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
Driving eastward in late July, on Highway I-90, we pass over Snoqualmie summit, dip into Ellensburg, cross the Columbia River, and then on both the right and left hand we watch as those mile-long fields with the gold stalks and the valuable heads of wheat flash by. I enjoy seeing those stems with their rich growth of life-giving wheat; or better, I most enjoy seeing the combines cutting the stalks and harvesting the wheat. Dump-trucks parallel the combines, and the wheat flows immediately from the combine into the truck bed.
Today’s gospel describes such a scene, although in the gospel, harvesters wield not a machine combine but a hand sickle. Our Lord looks about, prompted from the activity occurring around him, and he formulates parables to clarify and enrich his teaching about the Kingdom of God.
In today’s parable, a farmer sows seed by hand. Some randomness occurs; we have no detail suggesting a regularity of motion, or of the amount of seed in the farmer’s hand. With a broad arm stroke, the farmer dribbles out seed between his fingers as he walks across this acreage. By evening, this farmer would be tired. He goes to sleep and then he gets up, following the natural rhythms of the area. We recognize a stress on the ordinary, routine, and disengaged action of the sower. While he proceeds with the calm pace of day after day, the seed, nonetheless, acts, for it sprouts and grows.
The glaring contrast draws attention; while the farmer apparently relaxes, the seed dynamically develops. We think of the power of God energizing the seed. The stalk appears, then the plant head, and, finally, the full kernels appear. Eventually it ripens. The farmer, in truth, has planted the seed, but then the seed works by itself, the farmer not knowing how. Dynamism invigorates each seed, and it pushes upward, all the while filling out the precious head that in time becomes a number of wheat kernels. What has the farmer to do with all this dynamism? Nothing! The farmer eventually takes in the harvest. “This is how it is with the kingdom of God.”
While we commonly employ the phrase “Kingdom of God,” we might better use “dominion” in place of “kingdom.” In this American land of democracy, we have had no experience of a king or of a king’s realm.
This parable explains the coming of the Lord’s rule in a person’s life. Just as the seed grows with its own dynamism, so the Lord’s rule grows in our hearts. With the same certainty as the harvest comes for the husbandman after his long waiting, does God when his hour has come, when the eschatological term is complete, then God brings in the Last Judgment and the fulfilled Kingdom.
“Be patient,” the apostle James urges his community, “until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient” (James 5:7-8).
What a contrast is evident between the seed beginning and the harvest ending. While the seed looks insignificant, the harvest brings triumph. A further wonder grips us as we realize that the harvested wheat results from the seed; the harvest is implicit in the beginning. The infinitely great is active in the infinitely small. Some folk by the grace of God realize the mystery of God’s kingdom; these people see in its hidden and insignificant beginnings the coming glory of God (Mark 4:11).
In Seattle, we see ships tethered to the grain terminal at pier 86. Rail cars come from Eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana, and some mid-western states. The seeds that were planted in August and September have matured; their wheat now fills first the silos and then the ships that carry life to Asian ports, to Shanghai and elsewhere in China. The sure and silent beginnings exemplify the eventual fullness of God’s kingdom.
The unwavering assurance that God’s hour approaches is an essential element in Jesus’ preaching. God’s hour is coming: nay more, it has begun. When Jesus started his preaching, the outcome was implicit.
The kingdom of God grows and develops among us. At Mass, immediately following the consecration, we say “the mystery of faith.” Thus we celebrate the memorial of the death and resurrection of our Lord. Thereafter, we pray the Our Father, in which we ask that the Kingdom of God come, the will of God be enacted among us. As surely as the planted seed comes to maturity, so surely does the Kingdom of God grow among us and within us.
Jesus employs complex, evocative, and challenging parables to awake in us a sense of God’s dominion among us. God’s dominion is like a tiny mustard seed that grows to become like a cedar of Lebanon, or like a yeast that causes dough to rise, or like a person overjoyed in finding a treasure, and like a net that catches all type of fish (Matthew 13:24-48).
Christ continually employs parables, over one hundred, to describe the Kingdom of God, for He speaks often of the Kingdom. It can be imaged in the generosity of an employer who hires workers in his vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), and like a king who gives a wedding banquet but finds the banqueters not coming Matthew 22:1-16). In such images, Jesus describes God’s surprising presence in human affairs.
Here on earth, says Vatican II, the Kingdom is mysteriously present. When the Lord comes, the Kingdom will enter into its perfection (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, n. 39).