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Parables of the Kingdom (Mk 4:26ff.)

Eleventh Sunday Ord. Time B (2024)                 Boarbank Hall


The Parables of the Kingdom have always exercised the imagination of the hearers and readers from the times they were first delivered. One word that has gone on exercising believers and readers ever since is 'kingdom'. The gospel never tells us what it is. We are always told what it was like.  So the original audience and readers must have some understanding of what 'kingdom' implied then. We today have to forget our understanding of the word as we find it in 'The United Kingdom'. The reality Jesus talked of was not a spatial reality. It was not the kingdom of Israel. In those days Palestine was under the Romans. The Jewish king was a Roman puppet named Herod. The real power there was in the hands of Pontius Pilate. And of course there was a Roman Empire under an emperor. It was not a kingdom. What then was Jesus referring to?


The Kingdom

We need to go back to the Old Testament to understand the kingdom in the Jewish world. Every pious Jew prayed for the coming of God's kingdom. It is in the Psalms. God reigns, He is robed in majesty (Ps 93:1ff.). That was a hope that God would reign. If he did then justice would prevail. Finally their suffering would be over. Then as now the rich dominated the lives of the poor. Justice was too often ignored. In the days of Jesus the foreign power dominated their lives, forcing taxes out of those who could not afford to pay them. Where was God?  What would it be like if God did reign? That is the question addressed in the parables. Much was involved. Jesus uses the image of daily life in an agrarian world. 


Speaker’s characteristics

Jesus' choice of parable for teaching is fundamental. It tells us a lot about him. Quite clearly he was a rural person. He was a careful observer of the world about him. He saw how agricultural people worked, the way they sowed seed, the sort of fate that awaited it, out of their control. He knew the difference between good and bad soil, what happened when thorns choked the seed, and the danger of exposure to climate and so on. He was at home in the countryside. He was also a model teacher. He appealed to the imagination. He painted pictures with words that people could not easily forget. It was not a literate society. They would recognize in their experience the truthfulness of his description. 


But still it must have been hard to know what it was all about. So the parables are explained to the disciples later- they are often allegories: what appears in the story can be seen point by point in actual experienced reality outside the story. Jesus is metaphorically sowing seeds with his words, and the effects of his preaching are evocative. Who receives it a hundred per cent and so on? That is hard to say. Jesus never offers an example of anyone who is a recipient. During his own life-time the listeners knew little about Jesus himself or his mission. What they are being told is that whatever God wants Jesus does, and he shows others how to think and act. Anyone who accepts Jesus personally and accepts to be about what he is about belongs to the Kingdom of God. That is: they belong to God and are bringing about the will of God on earth.


Fundamental values

This is not at all far-fetched for our days.  The values of the kingdom are truth, justice, kindness, love, care for others, forgiveness and so on. Anyone who does these is not far from the kingdom. These days when we relate humanely with others, whether believers or not, we are sharing kingdom values. If anyone helps a refugee is that person not subscribing to a kingdom value? If anyone helps the poor and the lonely is that not the same? It is not just a question of believers doing it- it is a question of anyone doing good and being encouraged to do so. Obviously the Church is the place where these things should normally be attested. But nobody can simply identify the Kingdom of God with the Church. We pray at Mass ‘Thy Kingdom Come’- not thy Church Come. The Church exists to serve the kingdom, to help its growth. But it is all God's world and God's work-many belong to him who do not belong to the Church.


St.Paul

St. Paul in the second reading today puts it in his own way. The battle with egoism is on. We want freedom, we want goodness, we want an end to sickness, we want an end to suffering- all is struggle and expectation. Not everybody listens kindly. That is mysterious. Why do some believe and some not? Even in the same family? Why are some people helpful, nice and peace-loving and others not- even in the same family? That is mysterious. But we do know what is good- especially when we are the recipients of it. Then we know that the kingdom of God is among us.


Conclusion

The Church is like a family, promoting the values of the kingdom of God. Here in our own local church, in our own community, we strive together to keep these. But it is all gift. None of us would say that we are marvellous. We just hope we are not awful. What is at stake is much bigger than ourselves- it is God's world, -the values of his kingdom. The seed has been sown and is still being sown. This weekend Pope Francis is addressing  the G7 representative of the richest nations of the world….preaching the values of the kingdom to a very receptive audience of all faiths and none. Amen.


Rev. Richard J. Taylor

Spiritual Advisor, MaterCare International

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