“How to describe the Kingdom of God?”
This Gospel passage from Mark tells of two parables of the ‘Kingdom’. They are simple stories, metaphors rather, and come from an agricultural setting. But their very simplicity
hides a deeper truth.
First: how do we understand the term ‘parable’ as we find it in Jesus’s teaching?
A parable is not just an interesting story. Rather, it is a story ‘with a twist’, a secret meaning, a riddle. At some point in his ministry Jesus started using parables when he addressed the crowds. When you state the obvious, when you tell the unvarnished truth,
it is usually not acceptable. It is dismissed as ‘stale news’. But when you couch your message in a story, not only is it more easily remembered, but the riddle at the end makes the hearers reflect more deeply. The message isn’t taken for granted.
The two parables recorded here present the ‘kingdom’ or the ‘reign of God’. This term, which comes frequently in the first three Gospels, refers to a spiritual reality which Jesus announces to his people, the Jews, but not just to the Jews, to all people everywhere. God’s reign takes place whenever people begin to live with respect, honesty and compassion for each other, going out of their way to help anyone in need. This new relationship with each other is what gives glory to God, not endless prayers and rituals.
The ‘reign of God’ is a spiritual reality, and grows mysteriously in society, like the seed planted in the soil. The farmer does not know “how” it grows, but it does – into a sprout, into a full blade, into a rich crop which is ripe for the harvest. The disciple may sow the seed, but it is God who gives the increase.
The second parable is similar: the seed when sowed is very tiny, “just like a mustard seed”. But the plant which grows out of the seed is “taller than any other plant, and forms branches so large that birds can settle in its shade.” A picturesque way of describing the strength and beauty of a community where God’s reign brings harmony and prosperity to all who acknowledge it.
What we need to remember is this: the reign of God is a spiritual reality, and changes us from within. It does not come about by force, by political strategy, by socio-economic means. This is as true today as it has always been.
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