a Homily for Proper 6B - Text: Mark 4:26-34
Some here have noticed that I ask questions. I like to tell the group there are no right answers. That this is not question and answer time, but question and response time. That I’m not looking for something specific, but I want to hear your response. Sometimes people don’t believe me. They think I have a secret answer that I’m looking for. That’s not entirely true. But there are concepts I’m thinking of.
Of course we know asking questions is a teaching tool. I’m inviting the other to synthesize what we’re talking about. To connect and articulate the subject matter. This is one of Jesus’s favorite methods of teaching. Another is used here. The parable. In fact this story is as much about how Jesus teaches as what.
In it, Jesus uses the parable to talk about the Kingdom of GOD. He uses a second parable. Then he uses many more. Our pericope ends with
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples. (vv. 33-34)
What an incredibly loaded sentence! This reveals that the crowd got a bunch of parables (stories) and the disciples received special, additional instruction. Taken with last week’s story of Jesus and the disciples trapped—creating those inside with Jesus and those outside and far from Jesus—we get the same troubling question asked a different way. Last week it was
Do you want to be inside or out?
And this week it is
Do you want to be with the crowd of followers or with the disciples?
Which Teaching is For Us?
The crowd is full of casual listeners who hear amazing stories, see miraculous things. They follow the Magic Man from a distance, anonymously. Not far removed from Nicodemus who comes to Jesus at night. They hear Jesus’s story of seeds and growth and hear only about seeds and growth.
The disciples, on the other hand, have committed themselves and become the public face of Jesus. He is known far and wide, not only for His work, but for the work they do. They have left family behind to follow a radical, prophetic preacher. Their personal cost is high. They hear Jesus’s story of seeds and growth, take their experience of doing God’s work with Jesus, and He gives them additional, discrete instructions.
Notice, of course, that our Scripture leads us to be the crowd, disconnected from the secret teaching, left only with the parables. We don’t have to be. We can choose the more challenging path.
Throughout Mark’s gospel, we see the people wrestling with the parables and having a really hard time with them. Sometimes the text clues us in to what Jesus has in mind. But sometimes, like today, it doesn’t. We might, like the crowd, hear Jesus speak of seeds and growth and think that is all that is there.
Messing up Field of Dreams
We do that often in Churchland. One way is in how we have misremembered the famous quote from the old film, Field of Dreams to seemingly misapply its purpose. We share with one another this idea about the seed growing, the farmer going to sleep, and having the plant grow without us, and we apply it to that improperly quoted statement
“build it and they will come.”
Suddenly we expect that our job is to build programs and random people will materialize. During my short time as a youth minister, I used to joke that people expected that my presence would spawn teenagers like a paramecium—that they would just seem to split off from me and suddenly there would be another! And then another! Woo hoo! I’m budding!
This characterization of the movie is directly opposite of what it is actually about and what we need. The quote is actually
“If you build it, he will come.”
And of course, the voice whispering this to Kevin Costner means his father. This is where we get things so wrong. It isn’t about the size of the program, it is about the relationship with a parent that feels distant—the one we long to depend on, but don’t know how to bring closer.
There is a reason that we refer to GOD as Father. Not because GOD is a man. Not because of any masculine stereotypes, really. We call GOD our Father or Mother because of relationship, intimacy. The sense of connection we feel with our parents and the sense of loss when they are gone or absent from our lives links us to our same feelings of intimacy with our creator. We are reminded of all the times we are picked up from our skinned knees and the times in which learning to do the right thing brings tears to our eyes. And in these images, we see parents and GOD.
It’s the Intimacy, Stupid!
That Field of Dreams quote actually does describe our needs, because our focus is on bringing our Creator closer, and bringing the Kingdom of GOD closer. We are called to build, but it isn’t for glory, and it isn’t to build another Tower of Babel, that we might achieve godhood. We do it so that we might be with GOD. And that we do what GOD actually does ask us to do: to bring the Kingdom closer.
For most of the gospel of Mark, we, like the crowd, only get the parables from Scripture, because the teaching has to come to us directly from Jesus: from witnessing the Christ in others, in our prayer life, in our corporate worship, and in our attempts to build that heavenly ball field.
We are invited in, to be a disciple of Jesus, so that we can better know GOD. Rather than watch others, like a spectator, and wonder what all of the fuss is about, we can choose to learn the truth from Jesus; when we stop watching church happen and start making it happen ourselves, with our lives, together.
- The Parables of the Seeds. (tvaraj2inspirations.wordpress.com)