Mark’s Gospel is full of stories, parables about the Kingdom of God. The fourth chapter alone has three stories and all three are about seeds. In one story Jesus tells of a farmer who planted seed in both good and not so good soil. That’s the story Jesus elaborates on making it easy to understand. But the second, (which was the first parable that was just read) is a little more mysterious. It describes how the seed grows without the farmer knowing how. The third marvels at how large beautiful plants can grow from such tiny seeds.
Literally, the word parable means “a riddle.” Jesus told more than 40 riddles or parables during his ministry. Usually when a person tells you a riddle, they eventually tell you the answer. But Jesus only explained one parable to the crowds – the parable of the Sower and the Seed. Mark lets us know that Jesus did explain everything to his disciples in private. Then, Jesus ascended into heaven and took the answers with him! So that leaves us, with a lot of figuring out to do.
I’m told that one of the most amazing seeds in the world is Chinese bamboo. It lies buried in the soil for five years before above-ground sprouts begin to appear leading one to believe it has died, is dormant, or stunted or defective seed. During those long five-years it is important to cultivate, water and fertilize it regularly. When the seedlings finally emerge from the ground, you can almost watch them grow before your very eyes – growing at an astonishing rate, ninety feet into the air in just six weeks. That’s fifteen feet a week, more than two feet a day, two inches every hour. Why does it take so long to emerge, and then grow so fast once it does? Plant experts say that during its first five years, the seed is busy building it’s elaborate root system underground that enables it to grow ninety feet in six weeks.
We can be tempted to want parables to unfold in neat little, decodable life-lessons. But that’s not Jesus way. He simply floats the parable out there, to rise or fall on ears of those who hear more than is said. Those who have learned to really listen and read between the lines.
I am reminded of a short film that was popular in the 1970s – produced by a Canadian film maker: “The Parable.” It was described by critics as “a very subtle Christian worldview.” It raised eyebrows and questions about the prophetic role of the artist. There were teachers’ guides galore explaining the symbolism in the story. However, the film maker said he did not see Christ in the story. It was not his intention to do anything other than tell a good short story and maybe win an award.
Parables are like dreams. I can learn about universal symbolism but only the dreamer herself can discern the deep and hidden meaning of her dream. We may both have dreams about rocks falling on us but each of us must interpret what the rocks represent. You cannot explain for me what my dream about floating like a manatee down the Peace River means for me. You may guess what it might mean for you if you had a similar dream. If I am deathly afraid of water it may terrorize me while it may mean calm and serenity for you.
Remember the Chinese bamboo: God’s Kingdom grows within us in a similar way. It takes a long time to emerge. Sometimes it takes so long we wonder, “Did the seed of God’s kingdom planted in me at Baptism ever take root? Maybe it fell on a rock in my heart and died. Maybe it got choked by the thorns of my sins.” More often than not, the seed of God’s Kingdom is building an elaborate root system inside. Its growth may not be visible for a long time, but eventually something wonderful and beautiful will emerge.
This means that we need to trust God who in the first place planted the seed of the Kingdom in us. He understands what’s happening inside us because he sees into the heart, even though we don’t. We also need to be patient with ourselves and with each other. Even though the Kingdom may not seem to have taken root in you, and you don’t seem to be getting any holier, there’s no need to be discouraged. Keep on cultivating the seed with private and communal prayer, Eucharist and Lectio. And, trust that others are making similar efforts to cultivate the seeds in their lives. Hold in your mind the image of that bamboo … so much happening beneath the surface that the God of surprises patiently cultivates to bring to blossom in our lives!
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress
In your prayers, kindly remember S. Elizabeth and her family … Sister’s nephew Janosh and his 3-year-old son, Daniel drowned over the week-end in a rip tide tragedy at Apollo Beach, FL.
May they rest in peace! And may the family be sustained in faith and the comfort of friends who mourn with them. Sister is with the family in Riverview … some information can be found on BayNews 9 and Facebook.
Elizabeth Mathai (firstname.lastname@example.org)