Gospel: Mark 4:26-34
While Mark places great emphasis on Jesus' role as a teacher, we are not given much detail about the content of his teaching. One exception is in chapter four where we hear a series of Jesus' parables of the kingdom. All of the gospels agree that the parable was the primary means by which he taught the crowds and this was one of the main
characteristics of his remarkable ministry. In this text, there are two such parables about the kingdom, both centered on the theme of growth. In the first, the kingdom is likened to the situation that unfolds when someone sows seed in the ground. The seed grows independently of him, until the time of the harvest. Jesus wants his hearers to understand that as surely as the seed grows, so does the work of the kingdom. It is not up to us; rather it is a gift of God. The following parable says something similar, using language that echoes the words of Ezekiel from the first reading. The mustard seed is the tiniest of all, but the shrub that issues from it is the greatest of all. So the kingdom, from insignificant beginnings, will grow to give shade to all who come to shelter in its branches.
The unique message of Jesus is summed up by his use of the phrase 'kingdom of God' and his unique way of speaking about it. No doubt Jesus could have written a book or given a series of dogmas and rules, but he chose to tell short stories by way of illustration. The kingdom he speaks of is not the afterlife but an expression of how God wants the world to be. So the parables of the kingdom deal with God's will for the world and how his grace is at work around us. As such, they offer both comfort and challenge. Today's parables stress that we must not fret or worry, but trust that the kingdom will come because God wants it to. They are an invitation to take time to consider how the plan of God unfolds around us in ways that are both surprising and sure.