Christ and the Eucharist Mk 4:26-34
So much of what makes Mark a theologically compelling narrative resides in the confusion and mystery that propel the plot forward. Jesus generates amazement but also misunderstanding.
Apparent insiders stumble along and abandon Jesus in the end, while some characters from the margins demonstrate an unlikely capacity for faith and recognition (see the anonymous woman in Mark 5:25-34; the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7:24-30; Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52; and the centurion in Mark 15:39).
These two parables therefore exercise an important function when Mark creates a crisis of confidence among its readers. The parables insist that the reign of God will not remain secretive forever, nor does its ultimate emergence depend on humanity’s ingenuity, social engineering, pietistic intensity, moral virtue, or spiritual cleverness. It exposes and ultimately replaces systems of dominance and servitude (see Mark 3:24-27; Mark 10:42-44),1 not only in sudden and decisive instances, but also in any moment in which it merely puts forth a new leaf or shoot. In those moments, people come to recognize God’s reign, share in divine blessings, and join in God’s commitment to forge an alternate society that renounces the politics of fear and intimidation.
It bears mentioning that Mark’s outlook on the reign of God will not endorse a passive stance on our part. While there is something inevitable about God’s deliverance, still other passages in Mark call would-be disciples to participate in the Christ’s activity.
The Markan parables do not promise a gospel of unhindered progress, as if God’s reign is guaranteed to be more prevalent and influential ten years from now than it was ten years ago. But the parables do insist that the new order Jesus declares through his words and deeds will not be relegated to certain spheres. There is no special biome to which the mustard plant is confined. With its seeds carried by the wind and stuck to hikers’ shoelaces, it will grow where it will.
Likewise, the reign of God does not carve out a separate sacred space; it claims all aspects of human existence. There is no such thing, not in Christianity at least, as an apolitical gospel. There is no economically neutral gospel. There is no gospel that dismisses the importance of embodied existence and interpersonal relationships. Whatever you preach and however your church conducts its ministry, if it doesn’t provide sanctuary, hospitality, sustenance, and renewal to those who need it, like little birds in a field full of foxes, then it isn’t the gospel. In short, there is no gospel in which Jesus remains buried in the ground like a dormant seed.