Mark 4:26-34
The Kingdom's Growth
by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.

Jesus said to the crowds: "This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a men were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.  Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.  And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come."

He said, "To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it?  It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.  But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade."  With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.  Without parables he did not speak to them, but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.

Deep within our fallen human nature is that desire — indeed, insistence — to control. Ever since Adam and Eve grasped for the fruit, we have wanted to be in the know, to have a say, to "control our destiny." Our technological culture exacerbates this desire by giving us a false sense of actually knowing all and controlling all. We Google to find — instantly — answers to whatever we need. We have at our fingertips information that not too many years ago would have taken hours, days or weeks to find. Today we order something miles away and get it tomorrow. With our biotechnology, we think we control even our origins and — by way of euthanasia — our end as well. Nothing seems beyond us.

Except the kingdom of God. Yes, His kingdom is within us (cf. Lk 17:21). But it is at the same time beyond us, beyond our ability to grasp or control. It is “as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how" (Mk 4:26-27). The seed grows on its own terms, not his ... on its own schedule, not his. God works His grace in us as He wills ... on His terms, not ours ... on His schedule, not ours.

Thus the kingdom of God requires trust. The power of it is beyond our control. "He knows not how," Our Lord says of the farmer. And we should all apply the same description to ourselves. We “know not how” He will work within us. We must trust — have faith — that the seed of life He planted within us will grow. Although we can certainly inhibit that growth by selfishness and sin, we do not have dominion over it. We cannot understand it fully or determine it. We must trust that His grace does in fact grow within us, that our prayers have an effect, that the sacraments do nourish. And one thing certain from Scripture is that His grace will grow to the degree we trust.

Likewise the kingdom of God requires patience. We are accustomed to immediate results. But God's grace does not work that way. Certainly He can, and sometimes does, effect extraordinary and immediate conversions, healings, revelations, etc. But His preferred way of working is by organic growth — slow, steady growth according to the principle of life that has been planted. No farmer sows seeds and then expects a full grown plant the next day. He waits for what will come, knowing that insisting on his own schedule would be, well, fruitless. So also we “know not how” His grace works ... or when.

To this parable Our Lord adds another that, again, breaks us of our worldly expectations. The kingdom of God "is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet 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” (Mk 4:31-32). We think power is only in the large, in things "too big to fail." The powerful are supersized, oversized and “ginormous.” And, we reason, the kingdom of the eternal, almighty God must be likewise.

But Our Lord wants to break us of our addiction to the monstrous. He is always using the small to accomplish great things. He, in fact, prefers the little ones to show forth His might. Thus, little Israel becomes a kingdom, young David slays Goliath, no-account Gideon routs the Midianites, and the Infant in the manger conquers the evil one. And we, always chasing after the grand and big, need to re-learn that it is the small prayers, the little acts of devotion, the unseen acts of charity — in effect, all those mustard seeds that grow into something great: holiness.

It is His kingdom that He has placed within us, with its own principle of growth and fruition. For us to receive that kingdom and enjoy its growth more profoundly, we must put aside the worldly way of thinking and learn His way of trust, patience, and smallness.

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