- 1 Samuel 15:34 - 16:13 and Psalm 20 •
- Ezekiel 17:22-24 and Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15 •
- 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17 •
- Mark 4:26-34
|Peasant Woman Sowing -- Van Gogh (1881)|
In this week’s Gospel reading there is a parable unique to Mark. The chapter in which it appears begins with the familiar story of the sower that Matthew and Luke also record. At the end, though, Mark uses the same image of seed planted in the ground to turn our thoughts in a different direction. ‘The kingdom of God is like this', Jesus says, and invites us to dwell on something both utterly familiar and deeply mysterious. We plant seeds, and after a time we harvest the crop they produce. Sprouting and growing are essential to our success, of course, and yet, wholly reliant as we are on these processes, they happen quite independently of our labor.
The sower in Mark's parable is anonymous and represents everyone and anyone. What matters is the seed, and its mysterious power to produce grain. The message is clear. Christians believe that in humanity's age-old struggle with ignorance, evil and death, truth and goodness will finally be victorious in the Kingdom of God. The life, death and Resurrection of Jesus guarantee this. In the ‘present dispensation’, however, we have to await that final triumph, and while we do, our task is primarily to witness to that hope by being content to ‘sow the seed’ wherever there is opportunity in our own time and place, relying on spiritual germination and growth that we cannot control.
|Harvest -- Van Gogh (1888)|
In our spiritual ‘labors’, as in all our other endeavors, it is hard not to look for solid evidence that our efforts are bearing fruit. Mark’s parable aims to stop us thinking in just this way. We should be content to be sowers who can ‘sleep and rise night and day’ confident that the ways of God, which we cannot fathom, are always at work in bringing our witness to fruition. In a time of declining church membership in Europe and America, this can be especially testing. The temptation is to turn to recruitment and leadership techniques drawn from the worlds of business and politics. But St Paul tells the Corinthians in the Epistle -- ‘Walk by faith and not by sight’. ‘From now on’, he says, ‘regard no one from a human point of view’ as regards success and failure, because ‘if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation’. Unlike a business strategy, that is to say, the Spirit's efficacy is not to be assessed from a human point of view.