It has often occurred to me, having lived on a farm as a youngster, that folks who live close to the earth have a certain natural affinity for the metaphysical, the intuitive even the spiritual aspects of life and its meaning. Yes, I do admit, I may be a bit prejudiced, but there is something mystical about walking barefoot through a freshly plowed field or the feel of soft mud oozing up between your toes after a summer rainfall. Youngsters who walk the sidewalks of New York or Chicago may have missed that transcendent experience. In short, there is something about God’s good earth in all its aspects that can lift one’s mind to what Jesus called the Kingdom of God.
In your reading of Jesus’ life and travels in the Gospels you may have noticed that he was a keen observer of nature. Yes, we all know that he was a tradesman’s son but that did not hinder him from noticing local farmers throwing wheat seeds on a field, or the process of slow growth until those seeds produced a bushel or more of grain. In other words, Jesus seldom missed an opportunity to point out the similarities between the earthly and the spiritual. He was not particularly interested in agriculture as such but he had an acute sense of the relationship between the natural and the mystical. Grammar students would point out that Jesus was very perceptive at detecting the metaphorical meaning in ordinary sights and sounds that came to his attention.
Let it be noted however, he did not limit himself to superficial observation. If you pay close attention to his teachings, you will notice they always point beyond themselves. There was just something inherently sacred in those earthy examples that he would point to and say something like, “Folks, we are talking here about the “Kingdom of God.”
Digging a little deeper into today’s Gospel reading we find, for instance, that Jesus points out how slowly a field of wheat grows: first the seed, then the ear and finally the ripe wheat itself. “This is how it is with the Kingdom of God,” Jesus says. Spirituality is a life-long process; it is hardly ever fully ripe at one point in time. In other words, don’t hurry it; let it takes its own good time.
Jesus’ second metaphor is about weeds, yes, mustard is a weed, at least my father told me so. If it goes unchecked, it will overgrow all the wheat seedlings also struggling for life. Let us be cautious however, Jesus is not speaking strictly about the spread of weeds. He wants us to see that this is what God’s Kingdom — the life of the spirit is meant to be something that will spread naturally over the entire earth, wherever people of faith are willing to listen and grow spiritually.
Here is a point that should not be missed: Jesus simply told the story and left it there for further thoughtful reflection. He did not find the need to go more deeply into a theological discussion. The story itself was the lesson. Even the most ordinary listener could catch the deeper meaning. Why, it’s all so natural, so simple to understand.
I am convinced that metaphorical analogies such as those Jesus used are a perfect way to begin any homily in any church on any Sunday. Like Jesus’ disciples, Catholic folks will easily catch the meaning.
Scriptures for June 14
Ezekiel 17: 22-24
2 Cor. 5: 6-10
Mark 4: 26-34
The writer formerly served the Anchorage Archdiocese as director of pastoral education. He now lives in Notre Dame, Indiana.