In today’s Gospel reading we learn from Mark that the kingdom of God is like a seed that, when it grows up, will put forth large branches ‘so that the birds of the air can nest in its shade.’
When I read that particular sentence about the birds, it brought to mind another passage from the New Testament which can be found in chapter 9 of the Gospel of Luke. Here, Jesus says to his followers: ‘foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ If, as Mark’s Gospel indicates, the birds are to be included in the kingdom of God then the text of Luke’s Gospel implies that Jesus, who has nowhere to lay his head, is not of the kingdom of God but a homeless outsider. I believe that the answer is that in the Gospel narratives, the kingdom of God is anticipated and inaugurated by Jesus but he cannot fully participate in it until his earthly body has been transformed into a heavenly one. As the Son of Man, Jesus has to wait until his destiny is fulfilled on the Cross and in the Resurrection. Nor can we rest in the kingdom until the seed has grown up and has spread its branches.
In expressing his unique position as the Son of Man, the effect is one of sadness at being, in effect, homeless. Homelessness is a dispiriting state of affairs, and manifests itself on a large scale today. Politicians and people alike struggle to find solutions and churches and charities do their best to help those concerned. Can the New Testament offer us a way out of this anxiety-making state of affairs? Let us see what we can find.
I believe that we are being asked not to strive too hard for a solution. The message that the Gospel writers are giving us is that our real and ultimate home is the kingdom of God and this is not brought about solely by us. We harvest the ripe grain but it is God who brings it forth on his own timetable. As St Paul expresses it in his letter to the Corinthians: ‘I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. St Paul also asks us not to lose heart because if our earthly tent is destroyed we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. This does not mean to say that we do not suffer earthly dilemmas but that, as Paul expresses it, he would rather be ‘away from the body and home with the Lord’ than the other way round.
Where does this leave us, though, in our present day reality with its massive problems, homelessness amongst them, made worse in recent times by the pandemic? I would say that if we want to inhabit a better, fairer, world we can, as St Paul says, look towards the kingdom of God as a source of joy and completion but there is something else we can do. In his book entitled ‘Meeting God in Mark’ our former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams writes as follows: ‘to understand God there are a number of clues around you. The growth of a seed and the radiating of a lamp, as in the parable of the lamp under a bushel basket, demonstrate that God does not often manifest himself in thunderclaps but works from the depth of our being; from the heart out into the life of the everyday.’ I would say, then, that if we contemplate these clues and are aware of this earthly activity of God in our being, then whatever comes from our heart out into our everyday existence is bound, by its very nature, to work for the benefit of all. By tuning in to God’s work in us we can cope better and resolve where possible the problems that beset us, of which there are many.
We know, in today’s digital world,that we can tune in to what is going on all over the world but if we focus on tuning in to God’s work in us that, I believe, bears greater fruit in terms of the benefit of all. It does so because it involves the very heart of our being.
The everyday earthliness of the ministry of Jesus is emphasised by Mark to refute the charge made by his enemies that Jesus was a magician who healed by means of an evil spirit. On the contrary, Jesus is a human figure appointed by God as his earthly regent. His teachings, as in the parables, are grounded in the natural world. The focus of Mark’s theology is the kingdom of God but it is brought about in nature and we are then able to reap the harvest.
What Mark asks us to do is to be patient and wait for the seed to grow. It is a gradual process but do not be disheartened as the coming of God’s kingdom is inevitable. Waiting is not always easy and, as we know from the falling asleep of the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, we cannot always stay the course but if we can wait a bit, pray and be conscious of the possibilities that arise when we acknowledge God in our hearts, then from that little acorn the mighty oak will grow.