B Cycle – 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time 21
Mk. 4: 26-34
Did you ever wonder why the Pharisees never accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah God promised he would send? It is no doubt he amazed them by his preaching and his understanding of the scriptures. It is no doubt his miracles should have made them stop and consider that this man was the promised of God. Why wasn’t signs and wonders enough to make them accept him? When John while in prison sent his disciples to Jesus asking him if he was the one, what was the response of Jesus? He said, “tell John what you see and hear, the blind sees, the lame walk lepers are cured, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Mt. 11:3-5).
Jesus was not only reminding him of the miracles but was pointing to the prophesy of Isaiah (Is. 61:1) which predicted exactly the physical manifestation of the coming Messiah. So why were the pharisees so blind to who he was? You would have thought that one of those miracles would have planted a seed that would grow and begin to shatter the hardness of their hearts. Isn’t that what Jesus is telling us about the Kingdom of God growing in our hearts? It begins with something that stirs within us and makes us reflect on life, sin, our relationship with God, our lack of faith, something which we instinctively know is missing within us and our professed belief.
Each one of us, sitting in church today, have had that seed of faith planted in our hearts at some point in our lives. We would not be here if it had not been planted but the real question presented to us in this gospel today is “that seed growing.” The Pharisees would not let it grow, not all of them but most of them would not let it grow. If we listen to the parables there are several reasons why that seed of belief does not grow in our hearts. The parable of the Sower tells us it can be because we do not nurture it as it begins to take root. It does take an effort beyond just coming to mass to grow spiritually. The truth is we are undisciplined, lazy and creatures of habit and we just find it hard to begin a daily routine of prayer and scripture reading.
The hardness of our hearts is another reason why we do not grow spiritually. That rocky ground referred to in the parable of the Sower can be our own belief we are doing all that is required of us; therefore, we do not believe anything more is required of us. The Pharisees certainly believed they were not in need of doing anything more. Their strict adherence to the law was enough to be in good standing with God. They had no need to change for they were doing God’s will.
This is the hardest ground to cultivate for we believe there is no reason to change. Thus, the seed never takes root and we do not even realize what we are missing in our lives. Yet, we still instinctively know something is missing so we strive with renewed energy to find another act of obedience we can perform to please God.
The lure of the world is another reason the seed does not grow. There are many things out there which being us pleasure and make us feel good about ourselves. Included in these can be good things and evil things. Because we are believers, we know those which are evil and for the most part we can resist them, but the good things occupy our time. In the end we just do not have time for the things we need to do to grow spiritually.
For us as it was for the Pharisees, all these things are at odds with us growing and producing fruit for the kingdom of God. For the pharisees there was the dominant issue of believing they were doing exactly what God wanted them to be doing. The law defined their relationship with God, and they were comfortable with their ability to follow the law. Then Jesus comes along and challenges their definition of following the law. His disciples broke the law of purification and as the Pharisees point this out to him, he tells them it is what comes out of their hearts that is important to God (Mk.7:21). Paul picking up on this and his own hardness of heart says the law can only be our disciplinarian, defining right and wrong but never changing our hearts to do right.
That is why we need to pay attention to this parable. For it is a challenge to our dependence on our ability to do what we think is right to define our relationship with God. This parable tells us we must be doing more and allowing God to do more within us. We need to allow the Spirit into our lives to grow the seed of faith each of us has in our hearts. We must move away from dependence on the rituals and laws to define our relationship with God.
We are expected to grow and to produce fruit for the kingdom of God. This means we must realize the death of Jesus for our sins removed all barriers between us and God. It brough us into the Kingdom of God and placed us in the hands of the Spirit so we can grow into bearers of God’s grace to others. The first step is to allow ourselves to be nurtured and pruned by the Spirit as it shows us the more God desires to give us and the more God requires of us. It is a never ending process, we can never stop growing in faith, not because we strive to grow, but because the Spirit is endless in its ability to teach us and open our minds and hearts to the power of God’s transforming love.