This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
A Lamp under a Bushel Basket
21 He said to them, ‘Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand?22For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light.23Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’24And he said to them, ‘Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you.25For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.’
The Parable of the Growing Seed
26 He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground,27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
30 He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth;32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’
The Use of Parables
33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it;34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
The problem is that both Jesus and his church work in almost unknown locations, with people who have no power, so that even if good things happen, the rule of God doesn’t seem any nearer.
The mission and teaching of Jesus is described as a lamp. It may seem to be concealed in odd corners but it’s purpose is to be seen and to illuminate. Any concealment, such as the kind of people amongst whom the church takes root, or the teasing form of the parables of Jesus, is for the sake of revelation. Believers should listen up, because as they receive the truth, their capacity for receiving will grow; whereas those who don’t make an effort to receive it will find that their capacity for truth atrophies.
Jesus was teaching that God’s rule was dependent on being accepted; God would not over-rule the decisions of human beings. It would therefore take root amongst those who were neither materially nor spiritually self-sufficient, in his case the common people of Galilee; in Mark’s case the common people of his church community.
This peculiarity of God’s rule as opposed to earthly empires that imposed their will by force, is the matter addressed by Jesus’ parables of growing seed.
God’s rule is like a growing seed in that its growth cannot be forced, as if a farmer were to keep on digging the seed up to make sure it was growing! In fact it grows according to its own natural process which the farmer does not fully understand. All he can do is to sow the seed and wait. If he does, there will be growth and harvest. Jesus was telling disciples that they cannot speed up God’s rule. They can however sow the message by word and deed, or allow themselves to be sown. If they do so, there will be growth.
Of course, the seed itself may seem tiny, just Jesus healing and teaching in Galilee, or a house church existing in a Roman city, but it can be trusted to grow beyond all expectation. This is meaning of the mustard seed parable.
This teaching says: don’t be scared to be small and apparently insignificant; don’t be tempted to spread God’s rule by worldly methods that seem to promise success. Sow the seed, by announcing the story of Jesus and living in his Way, and you will be fruitful. That’s still good advice for all faith communities today. Neither the rule of Jesus nor Allah nor Buddha nor Krishna nor of any genuine prophet or teacher can be spread by advertising or force.