Fr Brian Broaders
'You can see it in the ground, You can see it in the trees, You can smell it in the breeze! Look around! Look around! Look around! - for as the song goes in the musical Carousel: ‘June is bustin out all over’. The first reading and the gospel this Sunday - as we return to St Mark’s Gospel - sings to us ‘Look around, see it in the ground, see it in the trees! It’s fitting that our focus today is on seeds, growth and green leaves. The seeds of faith have been planted and Jesus wants us to grown in faith. As St Paul tells us, ‘we are to go by faith, .. full of confidence’. St Mark wishes to present Jesus as one who doesn't want celebrity status but ‘as one who has come to serve’. The true follower of Jesus is a person who tries his or her best to do the will of God in loving service of our brothers and sisters. St Mark is also conscious of those who were going through difficult times in the early church, so he wanted to encourage them to keep going, to keep the faith. There is suffering, but what God is offering through the life, death and resurrection of his Son, is so much more that this world has to offer.
Jesus sets out to teach the crowds about the kingdom of God and he uses the teaching aids that were available and popular at the time, he uses the world of nature and parables. Back then, a pupil not having ‘google’ or ‘alexa’ would come with a question to the Rabbi. The Rabbi might answer by telling a parable. A parable could be a short story like the one about the parodical son or maybe just a few short sentences like today’s parable about the mustard seed. The pupil would have to work out the answer. Very often as is the case with most things, the answer is broader than we initially think! There is so much more to a seed than just a seed, it has potential.
Each of the parables that Jesus told, contain truths that help his followers understand what his kingdom is all about. Jesus taught the huge crowd that gathered to hear him and most likely he saw a farmer sowing seeds in a field close by. He catches the attention of the crowd by saying “look around”; the kingdom of God is like that seed!
It might help our understanding of the parables if we try to contrast the landscape and the horticulture with what we are familiar with today. Back then the farmer throws the seed onto the land by hand, no big tractors or machinery. There was no fertiliser or sprays to protect the crop from blight or disease. He had to wait patiently for the crop to grow and come to harvest, it was out of his hands, all he could do was trust. Is Jesus teaching us something about trust ?
At the time of Ezekiel when the Israelites were in exile and longing for home, the cedar tree was a symbol of pride, of strength, of prosperity and the prophet uses this noble tree as an image for the kingdom of Israel. God is using Ezekiel to promise his people that they shall return home and be as majestic and noble as the cedar, giving shelter and rest. In the second parable, Jesus uses the example of the mustard seed which grows into the biggest shrub. This shrub you could say is as common as our Blackthorn which is covering every roadside and hedgerow with its beautiful white flower. Jesus could have used the mighty cedar but I think he wants us to realise that God’s kingdom is in the ordinary; as Paddy Kavanagh might say, ‘God is in the bits and pieces of everyday’.
Fruit of the earth and work of human hands we pray over the gifts. God requires our hands to transform the ordinary into the divine; some things are beyond our control, sometimes we have to be guided by faith.
Yes: June is bustin' out all over and so is God’s kingdom; but we have to do more that just ‘Look around’ we must look beyond the surface with eyes of faith.