ELEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Psalm 92:2-3, 13-16
2 Corinthians 5:6–10
Whether you are a farmer by trade, a weekend gardener, or a simple keeper of a collection of houseplants, all people understand the horticultural language so often used by Jesus to describe the kingdom. Our personal experience of growing flowers or vegetables can teach us a great deal about what it truly means to “bear fruit.” The use of agricultural imagery came naturally to the people of Jesus’ day, for their spiritual lives had been nurtured with such language by the psalmist and prophets, as our readings demonstrate. But regardless of how familiar the parables of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark might appear, we still must make an effort to discern just what kind of insight into the kingdom Jesus is trying to provide.
Our first reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel makes it clear that God is in charge. It is God who tears off the “tender shoot” to be planted on the “mountain heights of Israel.” Prefiguring Mark’s parable of the mustard seed, the cedar seedling will thrive, and “birds of every kind,” “every winged thing” will dwell “in the shade of its boughs.” The Psalmist, too, reminds us that
“the just one shall flourish like the palm tree,
like a cedar of Lebanon shall he grow.
They that are planted in the House of the Lord
Shall flourish in the courts of our God.
They shall bear fruit even in old age;
Vigorous and sturdy shall they be.”
The first parable in today’s gospel is uniquely Markan, and regardless of the man’s effort of scattering the seed, it is the land, created by a loving God, which “of its own accord…yields fruit.” God is in charge in His Kingdom, and Jesus is both the seed and the sower in that kingdom. The seed is the Word of God, born of a woman in the small town of Bethlehem. That seed was nurtured, and grew and matured to the point that the very Word of God could share the words of God with God’s children, and in some that Word took root and grew.
The parable of the mustard seed, shared by all three Synoptic writers, highlights how God’s kingdom can grow from the smallest of beginnings into a place where “the birds of the sky” can feel at home. God’s kingdom is intended for all, and the preaching of Jesus was aimed at all kinds of birds: the religious leaders of his day, the poor and downcast, the tax collectors and the sinners, the sick and the dying. All the birds in God’s sky are welcome to nest in His kingdom.
God’s kingdom grows from the simple planting of the seeds of love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, justice, and joy. As the inhabitants of God’s kingdom we are called to plant those seeds in the hearts of those we come in contact with, praying that they might take root and produce more fruit. It is, indeed, an all-loving God who will give the increase, and so we take no credit if there is a big harvest. Our task is to keep planting with grateful hearts, and leave the rest up to a God who loves us unconditionally.