26Jesus also said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come."
30He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."
33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
As the church's year of grace keeps moving into the green and growing structured, ordered, and organized Season of the Spirit of Ordinary Time, today we continue in the gospel according to St. Mark, the featured gospel from Revised Common Lectionary Year B, a.k.a. "Mark's year." Last week we discussed Mark's eschatological perspective and mentioned how the Messianic Secret "don't tell anyone about the signs and wonders" directs listeners and readers to the cross that's the true revelation of God's power and identify. As the earliest and shortest and most immediate of the four canonical gospels, Mark is the one for the texting and tweeting crowd!
The Gospel According to Mark probably is not by Peter's ministry companion John Mark, but from an unknown author or group. Mark may have been compiled as early as 45 C.E., most likely between 60 and 70 close to the time of the destruction of the second Jerusalem temple.
Prior to Mark, good news or gospel was the returning Roman general's announcement of annihilating the other army's troops. This gospel according to Mark subverts that into the Good News of God's victory over the powers of sin and death, the triumph of the reign of life. The gospel of Jesus Christ is economic, political, religious, social, and cultural. The gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims life and brings life – resurrection out of death – everywhere.
Mark has no birth narrative; no resurrection account.
Mark particularly asks and answers where do we look for God? Where do we find God? In Jesus Christ, God no longer is far away, behind the clouds, ensconced, contained, and protected in the the brick and mortar of the temple. We supremely find God in the openness, exposure, and vulnerability of a human dying on the cross. We find God not in established religious, economic, political institutions, but outside the city limits, in the wilderness. In the stranger and outcast. In, with, and under all creation.
This week we have a pair of parables well-suited to an agricultural society and culture. A parable is a comparison, analogy, illustration: the kingdom of heaven is like, similar to, parallels. But please take note... a parable is not an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Sometimes it seems as if Jesus had a particular interpretation in mind; other parables lend themselves to a variety of interpretations.
Common sense human ideas would compare God's strength and power with visually majestic tall, strong, unbending trees like cedars, oaks, or redwoods, or possibly palms whose branches bend, but whose trunks stay stable. The famous mustard seed parable compares the inbreaking reign of God to a bush, shrub, or plant that's not especially desirable if you haven't planted it, though it has many medical, culinary, and other practical uses. Although Jesus' illustration sort of turns it into one, technically mustard's not a weed. Around here we have mustard plants interspersed with California golden poppies.