Jesus speaks to us in parable – he want us not to be passive listeners or simply to follow rules and regulations slavishly, he wants us to use our minds, ask questions, yes to dream dreams that will inspire our vision and by so doing create a better and hope filled future for those who come after us.
Parables are short stories that illustrate a particular religious or moral idea, short tales that communicate universal truths. Parables are a kind of extended metaphor, which is one way – and maybe the best way – of grasping the amazing wonder that is God within the limits of human language.
And today’s parable is about exactly that: the amazing wonder that is God. Jesus refers to it as the “kingdom of God,”
It refers not to territory, as in the United Kingdom, but to dominion, as in a semi-autonomous state that is under the sovereignty of another – namely God. The kind of kingdom Jesus describes is a kingdom in which the members have choice, the free will to make decisions about their lives, their involvement, their direction, and their future.
And the first choice we get to make is about which kingdom to call our own. When Jesus talks about the kingdom of God or the kingdom of God, he is talking about a kingdom inhabited by the righteous, and this kingdom is not the only kingdom.
Jesus acknowledge that there is more than one Kingdom, he acknowledges that there is the Kingdom of Satan. In last weeks gospel reading, for instance, he asks, “If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand?” The kingdom of evil is real; it’s all around us all the time, and we are lured by it and sometimes swayed by it.
We are faced with a choice, and it a choice that we make minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day in the thoughts we hold, in the words we use and ultimately in the actions we take. Do we choose the path of righteousness that leads to the kingdom of God or do turn inwards and relying upon our own resources treat the path that leads us to death and kingdom of Satan?
When we make a choice that puts our own selfish wishes over the real needs of the community that surrounds us. When we make a choice that wreaks violence on someone else – be it physical, emotional, or spiritual pain. When we make a choice that belittles other people according to category – be it race, or gender, or disability.
We are not walking towards the kingdom of God
In the kingdom of God, we would put aside our own egotistical need to have power over anyone else, and instead cultivate the qualities and gifts that come from the Holy Spirit such as Love, compassion, understanding, and cooperation.
In the kingdom of God, we would cease all violence, repenting of the evil that enslaves us, and instead promote true dialogue, empathy, and acceptance.
In the kingdom of God, we will bring an end to our own oppression of others, and instead foster open-mindedness, willingness to encounter what is new, and appreciation for difference.
This is a hopeful vision of paradise, and Jesus offers this to us every day – in his parables, in the sacraments, and in the spirit embodied in everyone we meet.
It seems so very clear. Kingdom of God: good. Kingdom of Satan: bad. Choose the good and reject the bad. So why is it that so often we do not make the right choice?
One reason – perhaps the biggest reason – is fear.
When we are afraid of something, we sometimes choose what is safe over what may seem challenging.
When we are afraid of what we know about some people, we sometimes choose to disparage them rather than take the opportunity to make new acquaintances.
When we are afraid of what we do not know, we sometimes choose to avoid the growth that comes only through learning something new, retreating instead into a cocoon of ignorance.
But according to Mark’s gospel, in the kingdom of God it is “as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.”
We do not know how the miracle that is God’s love works, how it grows, or what makes it sprout. This lack of knowledge leaves some even with in the church fear filled – fearful of the unknown, and so they choose to either avoiding confrontation, or ceaseing in the intellectual struggle that is faith and the heart ache that comes with love, in stead acquiescing to our darker thoughts, choosing what is safe over what is right.
But the choice is for us to respond in hopeful confidence, trusting that God is doing more than we can ask or imagine – even when we cannot see, or refuse to see, or do not comprehend.
When faced with difficult choices we often end up saying “I’ll go with my gut instincts” It may not always be possible to see the clear outcome of analytical thought so we go back to our basic instincts, those that have ensure the evolution and survival of the human race.
But this gut instinct will not lead us to God
Think of those who have made the right choice in their lives. Think of Jesus who choose his cross, this was not a gut instinct, that would have been to run away, nor was it a calculated risk, the odds were stacked too high against him, it was a choice of love and faith.
We heard this morning in Mark 4: “For the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs.”
What seems like a trivial matter, then, can become the pattern of a lifetime.
The smallest of seeds becomes the greatest of all shrubs.
The tiniest of babes can become the greatest of human living.
And even the worst human can become the greatest of all examples of what it is to choose to live in the kingdom of God.
Because that choice comes not once in a lifetime, not ever so rarely, not only now and again. The choice to live in the kingdom of God comes to each of us every hour of every day.
So let us walk by faith, not by sight, with confidence. For the love of Christ urges us on. Everything old has passed away, and in Christ there is a new creation.
That new creation is us. And it is up to us to make the choice for the kingdom of God.