11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
God secretly at work within our hearts
The Gospel for today, Mark 4:26-34, features two of Jesus’ parables concerning what the “Kingdom of God” is “like.” The Kingdom is an elusive concept, but we know that it is in opposition to the rule of Satan that it is displacing.
The world had fallen into a state of alienation from God where humanity is subject to demonic rule—resulting in all kinds of evil; moral degeneration, violence, dehumanization etc. But happily, the intervention of Jesus has broken the grip of the demonic in human affairs. Now the reign of the demonic is being replaced by the liberating reign of God.
The fruits of these opposing spiritual realties are, on one hand love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. On the other hand, hatred, strife, jealousy, anger, fighting, dissensions, factions, envy are the rotten fruits of a life without God (Galatians 5:16-23).
We can also know the characteristics of either Kingdom. One is meant to implode in on and destroy itself, the other to grow outwards and bear fruit. There is a tipping point here. To grow outward is to counter the tendency to be inward looking, self-indulgent, and grasping.
We can understand this well by reviewing the temptations of Jesus that indicate the moment of choice between being inward looking and self-seeking, or outwardly oriented. Being self-seeking is like a black-hole in the spiritual life in the way it crushes and destroys eternal Life. First, we can become totally enslaved to a ‘need’ to satisfy our body with pleasure through food, alcohol, drugs, sex etc. Second, we can get hooked on the ‘need’ for material wealth. The last trap is the ‘need’ to be acknowledged as being special and above others (cf., Luke 4:1-13; Matthew 4:1-11).
However, based on Jesus’ outward looking response to temptation—the big-bang of the spiritual life—we can say: 1. Do not let the pursuit of bodily pleasure rule your choices, rather, as best you can, restrain any unruly desires and live a disciplined life that does not bring you shame. 2. Don’t make material possessions your priority, rather be thankful for what you have and the life we share. 3. Don’t think of yourself as better. Rather, be humble, acknowledge your God and submit yourself to God’s will.
By his life Jesus teaches us to be outward looking by being disciplined, thankful and humble – as opposed to being needy and selfish. There is either spiritual growth or selfishness and ruin. In today’s parables Jesus affirms we are to be outward growing, drawing on the analogy of growth that occurs in nature. Meaning when God’s eternal Life takes seed in your heart it will grow, although imperceptibly. Remain faithful in the ways of self-discipline, thanksgiving and humility and the fruit of God’s Kingdom will ripen in its own time.
These parables are a great way to counter any discouragement we may feel. Although our faith is powerful and will germinate like the mustard seed, the spiritual life similarly takes time to grow. We may think we are not progressing as we would like however God is secretly at work within our hearts producing, unknown to us, the fruits of God’s Kingdom. Thank be to God!