Psalm 37:5; Mark 4:26-34
Tradition dating from the second century tells us that St. Mark was writing to a Christian community in Rome that had experienced its share of persecution and failure. This was a community where it seems that people were leaving the faith under the threat of torture or death, leaders were more interested in preserving their own well-being than in leading the community, and evangelization was met with indifference or at times hostile rejection. Under these conditions, it would be hard not to lose hope.
Given that, it might be hard to understand how such a community would benefit from hearing parables about farmers and seeds. For that matter, it may be hard for us in the modern age to see the point. Jesus teaches us that seeds grow in the ground of their own accord and mustard seeds are small but grow into bushes large enough for birds to nest in. OK, but what is the point of this?
Simply put, Jesus is giving both them and us very good reason to hope.
Earlier this week, we heard him explain that the seed is the word of God. Once, those seeds were sowed within us. We heard them and over time they took root and grew. Now we are called to sow the same seeds in the hearts and minds of other people.
Here though we must remember one important point. Jesus teaches that those who sow the word do not control the growth. Just as a farmer can cultivate the soil, plant at the right time, and rotate the crops, but cannot control the elements, so it is with us. We sow the word in whatever ways our talents lead us, but we cannot worry about how to control its growth. That must be left to God. We are asked only to have faith that God will bring forth abundance in his own time according to his own design.
The second point concerns the seed itself. Namely, the seed is not only the word; it is also the person in whom the word has taken root. Jesus reminds us that from something as tiny and insignificant as a mustard seed comes a bush that can flower and grow several feet high. Imagine that one little seed as one seemingly insignificant person. Isn’t that how God has always worked? In the Old Testament, think of Joseph with the coat of many colors; Moses; David. In the New Testament, think of Mary, the mother of our Savior. It’s always the little people, the human mustard seeds, in whom the word of God flourishes and through whom mighty things are accomplished.
Taken together, these parables told St. Mark’s community exactly what they needed to hear, and they do the same for us. First, the seed is the word of God. It has been sown in us and we are to sow it in others. It will flourish, but it will do so according to a design over which God alone has control. Second, no person, no community is too small or insignificant to serve as an instrument for God. There is great hope, for all that is needed is openness to hear the word of God and do it.
As Psalm 37 reminds us: Commit to the LORD your way; trust in him, and he will act (Psalm 37:5).