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Jaime L. WatersMay 20, 2021
Daniel Öberg on Unsplash

Today’s Gospel, from Mark, offers details about Jesus the teacher. We witness how Jesus shares knowledge, shifts worldviews, inspires action and foretells consequences. We also get a behind-the-scenes perspective of Jesus’ interaction with the disciples.

He spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it. (Mk 4:33)

Liturgical day
Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Ez 17:22-24; Ps 92; 2 Cor 5:6-10; Mk 4:26-34

What can you do to increase your understanding?

How can you better meet people where they are?

How do you teach the kingdom of God to others?

In the Synoptic tradition, Jesus teaches with multilayered short stories, often to help people understand the kingdom of God by comparing it to relatable things. In the parable of the growing seed, Jesus compares the kingdom to someone scattering seeds. The seeds sprout and grow, although the person is unaware of how this happens; and when the grain is ripe, the person harvests the crops.

One interpretive possibility is to understand God as the one who scatters the seeds and completes the harvest. The seeds would represent the development of Jesus’ followers. Sickle and harvest imagery is sometimes associated with God’s judgment (Jl 4:13, Rv 14:15), so this parable might serve to remind people to grow and mature so that they are ready for final judgment. This reading poses some difficulties, however, since the one who scattered the seeds is unaware of how they grow.

Another possibility is that the person represents Jesus’ followers collectively and that the seeds are their words and actions that they plant in the world, where their growth is nurtured by the land. Nestled within this parable is the role of the earth in sustaining life: “Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” This parable offers an example of the ecological principle of mutual dependency and affirms the interconnectedness of all of creation.

In the following parable, Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, highlighting how small it begins and how large it grows. Again, the earth is vibrant and supports life. If the tree represents the kingdom of God on earth, then this parable affirms that the kingdom is large, welcoming and protective, expressing this with birds sheltering in its lush branches.

The last two verses of today’s Gospel reveal Jesus’ strategy and vision for his followers. To the large crowds who follow him, he taught with parables because they were effective. “He spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.” Like a good teacher, Jesus was mindful of how well his audience received the lesson, and he used styles and images that would inspire discourse and action. The image of seeds becoming crops and trees is meant to encourage personal and collective growth, as these actions help to grow the kingdom of God on earth.

In addition, Jesus explained “everything in private” to the disciples. He trained the select group so that they could teach, offering them additional preparation to serve the large community. Rather than focus on the exclusive nature of these private lessons, we should recognize that Jesus values education, and he forms his disciples so that they can provide it to others. Jesus’ practices and methods remind everyone, especially teachers and preachers, to communicate effectively, speaking so that people can understand and appreciate the Gospel.


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