June 16, 2024 – The Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time [Year B]

Fr. Michael Brungardt

Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:2-3, 13-16; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34

One way to read the Gospels and the parables is to read the passage and then ask, “So what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to act?” And that’s a perfectly valid way of reading Scripture, it’s one of the several ways to read Scripture. But its not the only way. And while you can do that with most every passage you read in the Gospels, it’s not always what Jesus is doing. (I know, shocking, Jesus isn’t just telling us what we should do all the time. Jesus did a lot of teaching, but not everything he taught was a moral lesson.) And surprise, surprise—this passage today is not Jesus teaching us a lesson on morals.

The Kingdom that Jesus is announcing (and this is the point!)—the Kingdom of God is a bit different. It doesn’t arrive how other kingdoms arrive. In fact, to this day, two-thousand years later, this kingdom still seems not to have arrived—but really, it’s hidden in plain sight.

Stop and think: how are new kingdoms established? Violence! The land of Israel was a land of blood and violence, and to this day it still is. Everyone wants that piece of ground. The Philistines, the Assyrians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans—everyone wanted to rule that place! There was constant violence, all in an attempt to establish a kingdom. Think about our little “kingdom” of the United States: how was America established? Revolutionary war. Think about even today: people are trying to establish ideological kingdoms right now, and it often devolves into violent protest. Kingdoms are usually established by violence.

Violence, though, is just one form of power. And power is the key—or rather, how you think power should be exercised, how best to use power is the key. Violence, force, heavy-handedness: these are the easy approaches to using power. But the Kingdom of God that Jesus has come to announce exercises power in a very strange, and a very counterintuitive way.

Jesus has been performing miracles and signs to show the power of this Kingdom to heal and restore. So clearly this Kingdom has power. But this power isn’t going to be used to set up a kingdom in the normal sense of the word.

The people of Israel, when they heard that there was going to be a restoration of the kingdom—just like the prophets had promised, the messianic event where enemies would be overcome and the oppressive kingdoms of the world would be defeated—Israel immediately thought along power in the “normal” way: violence. The Messiah would come with power and defeat the other kingdoms. The Messiah would come with divine judgment and destroy the other kingdoms.

So imagine the surprise when Jesus speaks about the kingdom in this way: “This is how it is with the Kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land.…the seed would sprout and grow.…of its own accord the land yields fruit.…and when the grain is ripe, he wield the sickle at once, for harvest has come.”

This Kingdom of God that Jesus is announcing isn’t one that happens from the top down. The Kingdom of God is planted, it begins in very small ways, and over time it grows and grows. And it does’t grow because we do things to make it happen, it grows because God is secretly at work, in ways we don’t see or know or comprehend. The Kingdom is a divine work, not a human achievement.

This is the good news. The Lord is at work, the Lord is faithful, the Lord plants and waters and makes it grow. It sounds like a horrible idea (because we’re not in control!) but it’s the plan the Lord has started—and it works.

We are not going to be the one’s to accomplish the work by our own power. Not going to happen. But that’s actually the most comforting thing I’ve heard in a long time. Because that also means that even if the world is falling apart around us, we’re going to be ok. Even if we’re backed against a wall and an army of whatever is bearing down on us, we don’t need to worry. The point is that the Lord is establishing the Kingdom, He Himself is setting up his reign on earth as it is in heaven. And he is doing this in and through his anointed one, his Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Our response is what we call “faith”: trusting in this Jesus, following him and where he leads us. If we listen to the little promptings he gives us, act on the little whispers (as ridiculous as they sound) that is how the Kingdom will break in—and break in powerfully. You don’t have to wield earthly power to make things happen. You just have to have faith that the Lord’s power, the power of the Kingdom of God, is real. And the point? It’s very real.