A Dialogue Sketch on Mark 4:26-34 (Proper 6, Pentecost 2, year B), written after a Group discussion for an Ecumenical Service.
Questions for discussion:
1. How is the Kingdom of God like a man scattering seed in a field? What do we mean by the Kingdom of God.? What is the point of the story? How far is the man involved and not involved – what is his responsibility?
2 (v30-32). What does Jesus mean by telling the story of the Mustard Seed? Why does he tell it like this? does it matter to us? How?
3. (v33,34) Why did Jesus use parables? when did he use them, and when not? Should we be doing the same? How?
A: You know, there are some days when I don’t think I understand the gospel at all. Why is God’s Kingdom like a man scattering seed in a field?
B; Is it like Creation – you know, God starting with a blank canvas?
C: I thought is was about faith, and the way it grows on you, or perhaps in you.
A: Yes, but the “kingdom of God” isn’t something I think about much. What do you understand by that?
C: It can’t be a place, and I think that’s why we find it odd. I like to think it is formed by people who have faith, wherever they are.
B: That’s interesting. I think of the Kingdom of God as people, but the people God rules – or perhaps the people who accept his Rule – with whom he’s creating a new order. So it exists now, but one day it’ll really be obvious and wonderful.
A: That explains why some people find it hard. I know someone who was bereaved recently, and has lots of doubts. She can’t be sure, she says.
C: That’s how faith goes. It’s a gift, but one you need to work at. In fact, it grows as you keep on believing when faith is difficult.
A: So you see the growth of the seed as the growth of our faith?
C: Yes. There’s a planting, but then it grows as we get on with life, doing the ordinary things. If faith is allowed to grow in that, then it will mature and be fruitful.
B: So Jesus is saying, “Don’t expect it all to come at once”; there will be a harvest – that’s the reason for it all, but it won’t be obvious while it’s still growing.
A: That would make Christian faith different to the Eastern religions, wouldn’t it?
B: I don’t know much about them; how would it be different?
A: Well, if Christians are looking to a harvest, to some time when God’s Kingdom will be obvious, and his plans all work out, that’s very different to the idea that life and time just roll on endlessly.
C: Yes, Christians look to heaven while some want to escape involvement with life and emotion altogether.
(371 words – 4 minutes. There could be a break for a song here)
A: I think you’ve made some sense of that first story for me. God is doing something, which, if we let it, grows in and among us until it reaches a wonderful harvest. Why does he then talk about a mustard plant, which grows from a tiny seed to a large bush?
B: I still think it’s about Creation. God is making something, something which grows to be big.
C: What about the birds? Are they the hangers-on?
B: Perhaps they’re the weaker people, who get shelter and protection. Every church has got some members who will never be leaders, but need encouragement and guidance to keep their lives on track.
A: Perhaps it’s even bigger than that. Our society still has some Christian ideas – we don’t like corruption, and we expect the ill and vulnerable to be cared for and protected. Aren’t they like birds sheltering in the branches of a bush?
C: If that’s true, it’s changing quite fast. Christian values and assumptions are less accepted and less understood now. The schools may try and teach Christianity, but so few of the teachers have any experience of what it means . .
B: So it’s probably up to us to learn how we can offer people outside the Churches the choice of faith. Other people won’t be able to do that, and we have to be clear what we are about, what is central to faith, rather than just our personal habits, and the style of our generation.
A: That sounds important to me. But are we sure we want to grow enormous? Not everything big is good – think of big business, or high-rise flats, or huge schools.
C: I don’t think the story is saying the mustard tree is good because it gets large, but because, as a big bush, it gives shade and shelter. The birds choose to be there.
B: I wonder if Jesus told the story on a hot day, as the crowd were wishing there was some shade, somewhere they could shelter? [We could do with a bit of shelter here today, with the rain/wind/sun, and they probably felt the same]. Perhaps they could even see birds in a mustard bush as Jesus was teaching?
C: That would explain a lot. I think Jesus chose a story that would make sense to the people listening, and wanted them to understand that the growth of God’s Kingdom wasn’t about a political process, or a military campaign. It would happen without them doing it all, even though it was important to them and involved them.
A: That would explain why the two stories come together. They are both about what God is doing, and how people are involved, but that a lot of the process is hidden and can’t be hurried, or organised. It’s a difficult message for people who want to see it all, buy it all, now. But I think people who have lived as Christians for some time might agree; it makes sense of their experience.
(504 words – 5 minutes There is another possible song break here)
C: We’ve looked at the two stories of God growing things, and agreed that he is still doing that. But then the reading ended with a comment that Jesus only spoke to the people in parables, although he explained to the disciples when they were alone.
B: Do you think going to synagogue in those days was boring? Perhaps it all went over the heads of ordinary people.
A: Stories do travel well – it’s harder to confuse the meaning of a story than a lecture. Even people who didn’t really understand what Jesus was talking about might have remembered the story, and told it again to people who would see the point.
C: But the disciples were told the explanation. Was that because they could understand more?
B: They had spent more time with Jesus. I doubt if they were cleverer than the rest, but they should have learnt more about God, about the way Jesus worked, and what he was trying to achieve.
A: Do you think they told Jesus stories themselves, when he sent them out on Mission?
B: Yes, at least the ones that made most sense to them. They must have known that people would listen and enjoy them, and that some would understand, either at the time or later.
A: Perhaps we ought to be doing the same – telling stories, I mean.
C: Well, isn’t that what we’ve been doing in this conversation? – telling stories and letting people in on what we understand. Perhaps we ought to do it more often.
(256 words – 2½ minutes) (Click here to return to the Index of Sketches)