In today’s Gospel, (Mark 4:26-34), Jesus reflected on the mode of existence of the Kingdom of God. He used parables about the planting of seeds and the seed’s germination and growth to illustrate the nature of that Kingdom which can also be referred to as the reign of God, because the Kingdom of God is not something physical – it is mystical. Jesus stated during his trial before Pontus Pilate that his Kingdom was not of this world, (Jn 18:36). The people of Israel during Jesus’ time were expecting a messiah who would be a warrior-king like King Saul and King David and would help to liberate them from Roman occupation. Just before his Ascension, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”, (Acts 1:6). Jesus had through his life, teaching, death and resurrection instructed the people of Israel that God’s plan for a messiah was of one who would lead everyone, including the Romans who were the occupying force, to a conversion of heart.
The Gospel of Mark, chapter four from which the Gospel of today was taken, contains four parables – the parable of the sower, the parable of the lamp, the parable of the seed growing by itself and the parable of the mustard seed. Thus, in three of these parables, Jesus used seeds to illustrate his message. The most known parable about planting seeds is the parable of the sower, however, it is not included in the Gospel reading of today. In the parable about the seed growing by itself after it has been planted by the farmer, Jesus is teaching us that the Kingdom of God has both ‘an already’ and ‘not yet’ aspect. He had through his life, preaching, death and resurrection planted the seed of the Kingdom of God which will continue to grow organically. Just as the seed in the parable grew until it yielded a harvest, so would the kingdom of God continue to expound until everyone becomes part of this Kingdom.
In the parable of the mustard seed, (which was the smallest seed the Jews in Jesus’ time may have known), Jesus wanted us to reflect on how grace can transform nature. Just as the mustard plant which grows to approximately ten to twelve feet high provides shelter to different kinds of birds, so does the Kingdom of God provide refuge to everyone. Jesus is inviting everyone to come to him so that his grace will transform them.
The first Reading, (Ez 17:22-24,) led a foundation for the Gospel of today. It prophesied about God planting a shoot which grew to provide shelter for the birds. The Lord said:
‘From the top of the cedar,
from the highest branch I will take a shoot
and plant it myself on a very high mountain.
I will plant it on the high mountain of Israel.
It will sprout branches and bear fruit,
and become a noble cedar.
Every kind of bird will live beneath it, …’
The Church which is at the service of the kingdom of God, had a humble origin like the grain sprouting or the shoot growing. She grew from a handful of Jesus’ disciples in Palestine to embrace men and women from all walks of life in the world. The Church which is the Body of Christ, is always in need of conversion of heart. Though the Church is not synonymous with the kingdom of God, it however, mirrors that kingdom. Jesus said that there are other sheep of his that were not yet part of the fold, those sheep need to be brought in the fold, so that there will be one sheep and one shepherd. Just as everyone is invited to become a member of the Church, so is everyone invited to be part of the kingdom of God. No one should exclude oneself from that kingdom by making wrong choices.
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp