Reflecting on the Gospel for June13, 2021, Father Garry Koch speaks of how Jesus uses the parable about the scattering of seeds to convey his message about the building of the Kingdom of God. Photo from Shutterstock.com
Reflecting on the Gospel for June13, 2021, Father Garry Koch speaks of how Jesus uses the parable about the scattering of seeds to convey his message about the building of the Kingdom of God. Photo from Shutterstock.com
Gospel Reflection for June 13, 2021, 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The nature of the Church, especially in relation to the Kingdom of God, is one that has been the source of much speculation by theologians over the centuries. The Kingdom of God is certainly more comprehensive than merely the Church herself. God’s kingdom is universal, unconstrained by the limits of time and space. One might expect that, if indeed sensate life exists on other planets in the universe, that they are equally members of God’s plan for creation and members of the great Kingdom of God. The Church, including all of her visible and invisible members, is limited to our immediate experience of history.

Jesus tells a parable about the spontaneous growth that happens when a farmer scatters seeds on the ground. As farmers were not fully aware of the scientific processes of seed germination, the growth of plants remained somewhat of a mystery to them. As we are in the section of Mark’s Gospel where Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God, we usually draw a focus there where we might be tempted to think primarily of the Church as kingdom model.

The argument as to whether or not Jesus intended to found the Church gets lost in this language struggle. Jesus does not use the language of separation from Judaism to establish his own Church, as we have seen so much separation from the Church over time, but rather the more inclusive, expansive, and familiar language of the Kingdom of God. Likewise, the word Church appears nowhere in Mark’s Gospel – so he was envisioning something perhaps more mystical than concrete as he emphasizes the Kingdom of God as the essential theme in the preaching of Jesus.

Jesus also employs the Kingdom of God terminology to stand as a contrast to the Kingdom of Satan. In this context, the Kingdom of God is breaking into the world through the ministry of Jesus, and then subsequently the work of the Apostles. The Kingdom of Satan is already manifest in the world through the world powers and those forces that stand opposed to Jesus and the works of the Kingdom. Subsequently Christians will use the term anti-Christ to express this same reality.

Jesus desires to lead all men and women to the Kingdom. He moved the image of the Kingdom beyond the strictures of Judaism to include the Gentile world. The apostles took up this universal mission and journeyed throughout the known world planting the seeds of the faith from England to India in only a matter of decades after the resurrection.

Through the Paschal Events Jesus most clearly inaugurates the Kingdom of God and the work of what becomes the Church begins at Pentecost. Through the work of the Church the struggle to overcome the Kingdom of Satan and proclaim the Kingdom of God continues. We see this manifest especially in and through the sacramental economy of the Church. The Kingdom of God is made present when the Eucharist is confected, when sins are forgiven, when the apostolic pardon is administered.

In our time we are legitimately concerned about the waning of the practice of the faith. The Church, especially in the Northeast of the US seems to be dwindling. There are as many people now in our country who practice or claim no religion as there are Catholics (with ex-Catholics making up a large segment of that percentage).

In understanding the history of the Church, we can see that this rhythm of flourishing and growth followed by decay and decline has occurred many times before and will do so again. Sometimes the seeds have to die in order to bring about life. We are a Resurrection faith and people, we know that decline and death does not point to an end but rather to a greater reemergence, to new life.

We have lost a sense of our agrarian roots and the reality that there are always seasons of growth, and there are seasons of decline. Just as some plants pop up spontaneously in our gardens from the seeds of plants we left behind the season before, so will the Church be renewed from seeds that we may have forgot were planted.

When the Church fails to proclaim the Kingdom of God, focusing primarily on herself, then she loses sight of the fundamental mission and proclamation of Jesus. While we might feel that our work for the Church seems futile we have to remain confident and mindful that we are planting seeds, not for the Church, but for the Kingdom of God. God never abandons the garden he has planted.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.