The Birds and the Trees: Mark 4:26–34, Other Text

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(questo commento mi è piaciuto, lo potevo tradurre, ma con Google, lo lascio in inglese, chi non lo legge può utilizzare il traduttore che preferisce)

Sermons from Faith Lutheran Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

The Birds and the Trees

Text: Mark 4:26–34

Other texts: Ezekiel 17:22–24, 1 Samuel 16:1, 6-12

We just heard two of what are called Jesus’ agricultural parables. It turns out that Jesus wasn’t much of a farmer—he was a city boy—and some of these parables show that. For example, the mustard seed is not the smallest of all seeds, as any gardener would know. But the parables are not instructions about gardening, fortunately. They are ways to help us think about a God who might not think in exactly the same way that we do.
Parables demand interpretation. They are supposed to shake us up, and after being shaken, we are supposed to put our pieces together in a new way. So parables are not about what they seem, which means we have to think about what they are about.
A common way to interpret the parables we heard today, especially the second one about the tiny mustard seed, is to conclude that a little faith goes a long way. See, we say to our evangelistic selves, faith starts small in people but it grows and grows. Or, a small faithful church grows and grows. Or, small faithful movement. And our job, being faithful Christians, is to plant the seeds, to sow them, to scatter them, as it says. And though things look hopeless at first, much will be accomplished in the end. We are the agents, in this view, and the parable charges us to go out and do something. Because we are responsible. We are in control.
This notion, that it is up to us, places a great burden on us. It puts us right in the middle of the chain of salvation. No sower, yields no harvest. But it is attractive because we do like to think of ourselves as controlling the universe. And we try hard to do so.
But in the end, this only leads to suffering. Both in others and in ourselves, as we forcefully and sometimes forcibly manipulate events and people. We want to align things through our clever wills so that things work out the right way.
Out of this comes sorrow. For we are too puny, too ignorant, too mean, too short-sighted, and too mortal to succeed at this for long. We are not in control, and life has a sometimes harsh way of reminding us of that.
God does not think as we do. (I think.) We are made in the image of God, and we therefore share some parts of God’s nature, but who knows what those parts are? God is not totally weird to us—that’s one of the great things about God—but God is constantly reminding us in scripture (and in life) that God has different ideas than we do.
In the passage from the first book of Samuel, God’s prophet Samuel is sent to the house of a man named Jesse. Samuel’s job is to pick out the next king of Israel. “It must be this tall, strong, oldest son,” thinks Samuel. Nope, not him, says God. “Then surely it is the second son,” thinks Samuel. Wrong again, says God. This goes on through five other men, seven sons in all. None are God’s choice. In the end, young David, just a boy, is called in from his job tending the sheep. David is the one. David is chosen, and in the end he becomes Israel’s greatest king. The Lord teaches Samuel that mortals—people, you and me—see things one way, God sees something else.
In Ezekiel, what we think to be high and mighty, God brings low. The poor and despised, God raises up. What prospers, God diminishes. What is impoverished, God nourishes. The things that people do, God undoes. The things people neglect, God provides for.
It is not, I think, that God is wiser than we are, or smarter, or knows more, or is more just, though all those things are no doubt true. It is that God is freer than we are. God is less burdened by all the things that not only cloud our vision but, even when we see what must be done, make us deny what we see. We bring to every situation a lot of baggage that God is evidently free of.
The parables in Mark tell us, they say, something about what the kingdom of God is like. If that is so, then the rule of God—which is what the kingdom means; the place in which God’s rule prevails—the kingdom is a place, first, of life and growth. These are about living, growing things. And it is a place, second, of provision and plenty. Ripe wheat comes from the harvest. Great shrubs are full with large branches. And it is place, third, of utility, of usefulness. The grain is harvested for nourishment. The branches provide homes for the birds.
And finally, it is a place in which God does the work, not us.
We are the beneficiaries, not the agents. We are not responsible for the useful bounty that comes out of these gardens. It is as if, it says in Mark, as if someone were to scatter seed on the ground and then sleep and rise day and night. How that works, the scatterer does not need to know. The earth produces of itself. And then, after all this happens, that “someone” gathers all the harvest. What these parables say—and they are not alone in the Gospel—is that God provides for us, God’s creatures.
Whenever we hear or read scripture, it is good to pay attention to how we feel. To our hearts. How we feel is a good clue—a better clue than what we think—it is a good clue to what’s going on in the text. And in these parables and in the words of Ezekiel, I suspect, we do not hear yet another burden that God has put on our shoulders. Instead, we hear them with thanksgiving. They comfort us rather than frighten us. That is because the burden is taken up by God. “I, the Lord, have spoken. I will accomplish it,” it says in Ezekiel. I will undo the injustices, I will give water to those who thirst. I will provide dwelling places for my creatures. I the Lord will do these things.
God is the source of all life. We are the living. God gives us life and sustains us. We are the birds. Without the bush, we have no place to nest. We are the tree. Without water we die. God provides the bush, God provides the water. Without God, there is nothing.
The parables are not stories about our power, about how powerful we are. Our power is a joke. A myth. The cause of our sadness. They are instead stories about our dependence, about our powerlessness.
We long for freedom and peace and fulfillment in our lives. Jesus teaches us in the parables that we will not find them in our power to control the world, but in God’s power to provide for us.

Thanks be to God.

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2 Commentaires Commenter.

  1. le 28 juin, 2012 à 15 h 30 min Modetrendence blog écrit:

    It’s a good post.

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