Dominica XI per Annum B
17 June 2018
Jesus’ words in the selection from St. Mark’s Gospel teach us about the Kingdom of God. It is a seed that is scattered on the land that undergoes change and growth while the sower waits for it to come to harvest time. It is like a seed so small that one would not expect it to become the largest of plants. These parables remind me too of Jesus’ words in St. John’s Gospel when he says that unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain. But if it dies it produces much fruit.
What does the image of seed and the process of germination teach us about the kingdom of God? I don’t want to wade too deeply into plant biology here because to do so would be to wade into a topic I am not qualified to say much about. However, for the purposes of this parable image of seed we might consider that seed that is scattered, sown, and planted is not a dead thing, but a living thing. We can say that seed is in a living but dormant state. The image of seed falling to the ground and dying, rather than having a literal meaning, is an image or analogy: seed that is planted gives up its previous dormant form. In this sense, it “dies”, gives up itself, and transforms into something different. Once a seed is planted, water in the soil begins a process by which the seed coat ruptures, and the heretofore dormant embryonic root is exposed and grows into the ground where it begins to extract nutrients and minerals that promote its growth and the production of shoots and leaves.
And Jesus says this tells us “how it is with the kingdom of God.” God’s kingdom in seed form begins its process of germination in us by faith and baptism. God’s kingdom is here in our midst the Scriptures say; and we await its fulfillment in the heavenly life to come. The seed is scattered in us and slowly, imperceptibly, as if on its own, it gives up itself and transforms into something new, growing toward the harvest the sower expects and for which he waits. The seed of the kingdom has its own inner strength or force that demands and impels toward full development.
The seed of God’s kingdom is scattered here below. God expects it to sprout, to grow, to stretch, and to reach up to fulfillment in eternity. Like the sower, He provides everything that is necessary for proper growth. He prepares the soil – He prepares us – by the words of the prophets to receive the kingdom He plants. He even sends His own Son, Jesus Christ, to till the ground with the instrument, the plow of the Cross, and to water us with the gift of the Blood and water flowing from his open side. And He waits patiently to gather the harvest.
As analogies go, parables are not literally applicable in all aspects of the image. For instance, taking the parable of the scattered seed, God the Sower, unlike the man in the parable, certainly knows how the seed of the kingdom sprouts and grows. He is, we might say, more actively involved than the sower in the parable in that God continues to give forth all the necessary nourishment in order for the kingdom to grow in us. In other words, God is not merely waiting for the harvest unaware of how to promote kingdom growth in us. Likewise, as the parable applies to us, we are not passive in kingdom growth in ourselves. We have been given the gift of free will and so we are called to be part of, and indeed to be responsible for, kingdom growth in our own lives and in the lives of others. Disciples are supposed to be witnesses of the kingdom in this world and disciples are supposed to make other disciples.
The second reading comes into play here. The kingdom being planted in us here below means we are called to undergo ongoing transformation so that the kingdom grows to its full harvest. The seed planted in us and germinated with faith and baptism means we give up ourselves and the former ways of life so that kingdom life grows in us. By this we can understand St. Paul: “while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.” With the kingdom planted in us, our “seed coat” of sin must rupture so that kingdom life can grow and flourish in us, taking in all the nourishment God generously provides. Like Jesus’ words in St. John’s Gospel, the seed planted here below must die, it must give up itself, in order to transform into newness of life. And so, our use of free will, what we do in the body, matters for kingdom growth in us. What we do in the body speaks to whether the kingdom harvest is lacking or ripe in us. St. Paul’s image can be understood then: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.” Yes, what do in this “seed coat” of the body matters.
The kingdom planted generously and lovingly by God requires that we give up our former way of life and be transformed here below. Will we give up whatever sin is ours and submit it to God’s kingdom? That is the question for each of us. Have you ever heard it said, “Well, I’m okay, I mean I haven’t committed adultery or murdered anyone.” Such comments excuse and minimize what are the kingdom-limiting factors in one’s life. When I hear that I want to say, “That’s great, then let’s not waste breath on things that aren’t real for you and let’s get to what are the sins that limit the kingdom in you.” The growth of conversion requires our cooperation. Where we struggle to give up old ways and to live more fully on the nourishment God provides, we can take courage in the patient, tender care of God who expects a harvest in us and who does not abandon us in that growth. Like the tender shoot from the cedar tree in the first reading that is torn off and planted high above Israel, providing proper dwelling, so God the Son, Jesus Christ, has given up his own life to provide us everything we need so that the kingdom grows in us. At every Holy Mass we pray the Lord’s Prayer. We might hear those familiar words about earth as having a particular call to us to submit ourselves to the kingdom in this body: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.”