The Jesus we see in Mark’s gospel is Jesus as herald of the kingdom of God. In fact, the very first words Jesus utters in Mark’s gospel informs the audience of the purpose of his coming into the world: Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’  It should come as no surprise then, that references to the kingdom of God should pepper the gospel, and shape Jesus’ ministry throughout. Which is where we find ourselves today.
What is significant here in not just that Jesus is using agricultural images, which would have been familiar to his audience, but that he is using ordinary, and even insignificant things to point to the kingdom of God. While this is true in other places, and other gospels, it is especially true in Mark’s gospel. Here in Mark the kingdom is not compared to a treasure, or pearl,a royal banquet, but ordinary, and even insignificant seed, and indeed the most insignificant of seeds, the tiny mustard seed.
2 Samuel 11:1-17 & Mark 4:26-34
I am haunted by a vivid memory: a lush, green vine consuming a tractor, an abandoned car, a telephone pole, and even a small house. The vine is kudzu, a species innocently introduced to the southern U.S. in the late 1800’s from Japan. Now known as “the vine that ate the south,” kudzu is an aggressively invasive species, often growing a foot in a single day. My vivid memory stems from seeing this vine for the first time at age nine, when my family relocated to Alabama from New Jersey. On one stretch of highway, I gawked at the shape of a tractor, an abandoned car, a telephone pole, and then a small house clearly visible beneath the lush foliage. I silently wondered if our new house would eventually suffer the same fate.
Sin is not unlike kudzu on an untended stretch of highway. In the second book of Samuel, we encounter a passage that is notoriously timeless in its relevance. A simple stroll and a lingering glance in the direction of the unknowing, innocent Bathsheba prove fatal. So much harm grown from a single, tragically misguided decision, to act on his tempting thoughts in flagrant abuse of his power as king. David’s sin rapidly multiplies in a sequence of events leading to worse and worse consequences. An innocent woman’s life is changed forever, and a good man is put to death by the king whose interests he was fighting to defend.
One Christmas while I was in grade school, I asked my parents if we could buy a live Christmas tree instead of a pre-cut tree to set up for decoration in our living room. I can’t remember what inspired this request initially. Perhaps I thought it was sad to see all the dead trees littering the curbs after the holidays waiting to be picked up by the city, a sign that the joy, fun, and wonder of the season was over for what to a young boy seemed a VERY long time. Maybe it was a natural curiosity to see if we could plant the tree and enjoy it year after year, watching it grow to maturity, the way it was intended to do. Whatever the reason, I was persistent in this request and eventually my parents conceded to the experiment. For a period 5 or 6 years, we bought live trees and began a post-Christmas ritual of planting the trees in the back yard. I was always delighted to see new growth on the trees each spring and as I grew older and began mowing the yard as part of my chores, I would be reminded of the Christmas that each tree represented as I mowed around it. Over the years all of the trees except one succumbed to disease. The one that has survived (the very first one we planted) is now taller than the house and to this day we marvel that this tree was once in our living room.
We all have within us a deep desire, something we yearn for, something we long to experience or attain. The object of this desire takes many forms, and for some people it becomes identified with a search to experience something beyond themselves, something transcendent. We can find spiritual seekers of this sort in all religions, and also among those who could be described as spiritual, but not religious. This yearning for something transpersonal is also the impetus of many new age practices or the many systems of thought that hold out the promise of inner transformation or enlightenment.