11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) – June 13, 2021
St. Mary – Derby, KS
Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:2-3, 13-16; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34
Back to the Kingdom
Like I’ve mentioned before, throughout Ordinary Time (which we start again today after the many weeks of Lent and Easter and the Solemnities of Pentecost, the Trinity, and Corpus Christi)—throughout Ordinary Time there is the temptation to kick back and look for some nice advice from Jesus or a nice story about him. It’s the summer months, it’s vacation time. So we just kinda get very scatter-brained and start to zone out. Plus, it’s been sixteen weeks since the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, right after the Super Bowl if that gives you better context for how long ago that was, back during that historic cold stretch in February when it was below freezing for forever.
But being back in Ordinary Time, we have to recall that what we’re doing is being immersed in the whole context of Jesus’ life and ministry and mission. We need to remember what that mission and context is. Because if we don’t, we’ll miss the point of who and what Jesus is and what he’s doing. We’ll miss the journey that allows us to see and to feel and to realize the point, to live the point.
This is my Wizard of Oz example. What happens at the end of the Wizard of Oz? We find out that it’s just a dream. Sorry. Spoiler alert: it’s just a dream. The context of the movie is that the whole land of Oz is just a dream Dorothy is having. But that’s not the point! The point of the movie is not that life is all a dream and it doesn’t matter, no. The point of the movie, the purpose of the movie is to help us to see and to feel and to realize: “There’s no place like home.”
In Ordinary Time, we can easily forget the bigger picture of what’s going on, or tell ourselves the twist at the end and think that we get it: “Well, spoiler alert: in the end Jesus dies and rises from the dead and now we’re supposed to go to Mass.” And those are all true statements. But is that the point? Is that the purpose of the Gospels? No. The Gospels are not trying to make the point that Jesus rose from the dead. It’s true! He did! And that’s the key to everything! But the Gospels just assume that. Jesus’ rising from the dead isn’t the point, but it proves the point.
The point, the purpose is to show what Jesus is all about. And what Jesus is all about is exactly what he says he’s about. In Mark’s Gospel that we’re reading from this year, Jesus tells you what the point is at the very beginning: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the good news.” And he’s going to flesh this out in his sermons and in his preaching and teachings, in his miracles and signs. But there are the beginning, and what should be engrained in us by the end, what we should feel and realize by the end, is just that point: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.”
The Parables of the Kingdom
One way to read the Gospels and the parables is to read the passage and then ask, “So what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to act?” And that’s a perfectly valid way of reading Scripture, it’s one of the several ways to read Scripture. No problem. But it’s not the only way. And while you can do that with most every passage you read in the Gospels, it’s not always what Jesus is doing. I know, shocking, Jesus isn’t just telling us what we should do all the time. Jesus did a lot of teaching, but not everything he taught was a moral lesson. And surprise, surprise—this passage today is not Jesus teaching us a lesson on morals.
Remember: we usually miss the point. We are so familiar with these stories that we forget what they mean, what is really going on. The Kingdom that Jesus is announcing (and this is the point!)—the Kingdom of God is a bit different. It doesn’t arrive how other kingdoms arrive. In fact, to this day, two-thousand years later, this kingdom still seems not to have arrived—but really, it’s hidden in plain sight.
Stop and think: how are new kingdoms established? How? Violence! The land of Israel was a land of blood and violence, and to this day it still is. Everyone wanted that. The Philistines, the Assyrians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans—everyone wanted to rule that place! There was constant violence, all in an attempt to establish a kingdom. Think about our little kingdom of the United States: how was America established? Revolutionary war. Think about even today: people are trying to establish ideological kingdoms right now, and it often devolves into violent protest. Kingdoms are usually established by violence.
Violence, though, is just one form of power. And power is the key—or rather, how you think power should be exercised, how best to use power is the key. Violence, force, heavy-handedness: these are the easy approaches to using power. But the Kingdom—again, Kingdom is just another way to talk about a source of power—the Kingdom of God that Jesus has come to announce exercises power in a very strange, and a very counterintuitive way.
The Power of The Kingdom
Jesus has been performing miracles and signs to show the power of this Kingdom to heal and restore. So clearly this Kingdom has power. But this power isn’t going to be used to set up a kingdom in the normal sense of the word.
The people of Israel, when they heard that there was going to be a restoration of the kingdom—just like the prophets had promised, the messianic event where enemies would be overcome and the oppressive kingdoms of the world would be defeated—Israel immediately thought about power in the “normal” way: violence. The Messiah would come with power and defeat the other kingdoms. The Messiah would come with divine judgment and destroy the other kingdoms.
So imagine the surprise when Jesus speaks about the kingdom in this way: “This is how it is with the Kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land.…the seed would sprout and grow.…of its own accord the land yields fruit.…and when the grain is ripe, he wield the sickle at once, for harvest has come.”
This Kingdom of God that Jesus is announcing isn’t one that happens from the top down. The Kingdom of God is planted, it begins in very small ways, and over time it grows and grows. And it does’t grow because we do things to make it happen, it grows because God is secretly at work, in ways we don’t see or know or comprehend. The Kingdom is a divine work, not a human achievement.
The Great Comfort and Commission
This is the good news. The Lord is at work, the Lord is faithful, the Lord plants and waters and makes it grow. It sounds like a horrible idea, but it’s the plan the Lord has started.
I pointed this out a few weeks ago, but one of the most well-known bible stories is when Moses is leading the people out of Egypt, and they find themselves backed up against the Red Sea and the Egyptian army is pursuing them. And they are just terrified because there’s nothing they can do. It’s impossible. But then Moses says something in Exodus 14:14. He says, “The LORD will fight for you. You have only to be silent.” And that’s when God parts the Red Sea, and He does the impossible, and the people are saved. “The LORD will fight for you. You have only to be silent.”
We are not going to be the one’s to accomplish the work by our own power. Not going to happen. But that’s actually the most comforting thing I’ve heard in a long time. Because that also means that even if the world is falling apart around us, we’re going to be ok. Even if we’re backed against a wall and an army of whatever is bearing down on us, we don’t need to worry. The Lord will fight for us, even though it’s not going to be in some violent sort of way.
The point is that the Lord is establishing the Kingdom, He Himself is setting up his reign on earth as it is in heaven. And he is doing this in and through his anointed one, his Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Our response is what we call “faith”: trusting in this Jesus, following him and where he leads us. If we shut up and listen, listen to the little promptings he gives us, act on the little whispers he gives us, as ridiculous as they sound—that is how the Kingdom will break in powerfully. I could share countless stories of how people here at St. Mary have responded to those promptings and incredible things have come as a result. They didn’t become the pastor and change everything, they didn’t have the power like that. They were simply silent and allowed the Lord to fight for them, to show his power through their simple faith, their simple trust in his word.