by Catherine Upchurch
Special to The Leaven
There is something mysterious about the kingdom of God. Jesus describes it this way: “It is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how” (Mk 4:27).
I’m fairly certain a seasoned farmer or a scientist could describe just how it happens, and we could install cameras to watch the emergence of the tiniest speck of green from the soil until it becomes a blade and then a bud or pod that opens. But that would be missing the point.
Jesus wants us to enter into the awe-inspiring reality that God works in ways that, to human logic, seem almost impossible. A seed has to die in order to bring life; and despite long experience, a farmer cannot accurately predict the exact moment that the seed becomes a viable plant. In the same way, the kingdom of God is unpredictable. It requires some dying (to selfishness, sin and false values), some growth (in mercy and justice) and then it may blossom (to fullness of life).
God’s kingdom is a mystery, not in the sense of something that needs to be solved like a riddle. Rather, it is mysterious in that it exceeds our logical nature. It turns expectations upside down and, in the process, invites us to find God in Christ at the very center of this new reality.
Paul wrote about this reversal of expectations: “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. . . . For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. . . . God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:22-23, 25, 27).
The kingdom of God becomes tangible in the person of Jesus, the Christ: born in a particular time and place, ministering among those who are in need of salvation (and aren’t we all?), dying on a cross and rising to new life. The good news of God’s kingdom is that while the cross is essential, it is never the final scene.
Jesus suffered death because he proclaims that God’s love is at the ready even for those who are not deemed worthy. He suffered death because the sin he identifies in all of us cannot define any of us. He suffered death because he trusts in the Father’s will to turn suffering into rejoicing.
God invites us each and every day to be saturated in this mystery of salvation, and to be so fully immersed in the kingdom of God that we cannot help but want to proclaim it to others. Yes, God chooses the foolish, the underestimated, the fragile and the broken. That means God chooses us to do some dying to self so that our true self, the image of God in which we are created, can rise to the surface.
In his life, Jesus chose a rather ragtag group of followers. Fishermen, tax collectors and zealots — some would have been quite adept at their trade, most would have been schooled in the local synagogue and each would have his own personality. And don’t forget, there were also women from the region of Galilee who were called by Jesus and stayed with him through his public life (Lk 8:1-3; 23:48-49, 55-56; Mk 15:40-41).
Jesus is still calling disciples, and he gives each of us the mission of proclaiming the kingdom. Whatever our economic or educational status, whatever our personality traits or gifts, we are being sent to plant seeds of the kingdom for the next generation and to harvest what has been planted by those who have gone before us.
Catherine Upchurch, the general editor of the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible, writes from Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Jesus tells us, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few” (Mt 9:37). You are being called by God and equipped by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom in your particular life. Say “yes” to God’s call.
Questions for reflection or discussion:
1. Just when it seems we have God figured out, we discover that God acts in surprising and mysterious ways. When has this been true in your experience?
2. In our culture, we are trained to make plans, check progress and expect results. How comfortable are you when life is beyond your control? In what ways does God use these times to draw you close and help you grow?
3. We have people in our midst who are well-educated theologically and spiritually, and who have roles as teachers and preachers. While their roles are essential in the body of Christ (e.g., Eph 4:11-16), are you also aware that you have a role to play? In what area of your life are you most at ease speaking about God’s work in the world? How will you challenge yourself to grow in this ability? 4. Every pope in our lifetimes has highlighted the missionary nature of the church. That means that by nature we are to be about evangelizing. Where have you seen your own parish grow in this effort to proclaim the good news and invite people to hear it? Where might your parish need to make a greater effort?