There are thirteen parables in the Gospel of Mark. Two of them appear in today's Gospel. And Jesus introduces today's parables by saying, "This is how it is with the kingdom of God…." "Let me tell you about the kingdom of God..."
Parables are stories; they are not theological arguments. Jesus is trying to describe for us a way of seeing our lives through another lens, through the lens of the parable. The parables reveal the way Jesus would have us look at things. They open us up to His perspective and we need to listen carefully.
In describing "how it is with the kingdom of God," Jesus taps into our imaginations to help us discover the surprising places and ways our God is acting. The kingdom that Jesus speaks of is not about a territory or a place. It's not about the afterlife in heaven. It's about God acting in the here and now and the parables are clues to how and where to look.
Both parables begin in ordinary, insignificant and inconsequential ways: seed is scattered; a tiny mustard seed is planted. In the first parable the farmer does very little work - if any - while the seed grows to maturity. "On its own accord the land yields fruit." Then, at the right time the farmer re-enters the story to do the work of harvest.
One thing is sure: Jesus wasn't trying to teach farmers how to plant their crops. Even if we have only planted a small backyard vegetable or flower garden we know we don't just scatter seed, forget about it and come back much later to pick flowers for a bouquet, or vegetables for a summer salad. After planting, there is weeding, watering, fertilizing, thinning, etc. -- then, if we're lucky, a harvest.
What Jesus seems to be saying in this parable is that despite our efforts - or lack of them - and despite our failures and successes, there will be a harvest nonetheless - it doesn't all depend on us. We can trust that while we are simply "scattering seed" there is set in motion an unavoidable force that will come to fruition.
And this idea is reinforced by the second parable: Jesus shifts our attention away from thinking about quantity to considering the quality of the faith we already have. Faith is not something that we can have more or less of. Faith, it seems, doesn't have to increase - as much as exist. Having faith doesn't automatically give the believer the power to perform crowd-pleasing spectacles or life-saving miracles. But it does mean that we are in touch with God and experience God as the source of that energy which enables us to live good lives, marked by the ability to forgive - as we ourselves have been forgiven; to reach out to one another - as we ourselves have been found and embraced by God.
So the Gospel will be proclaimed by the very ones who desperately need it themselves. And it is reassuring to know how wonderfully God acts, using ordinary folks to plant seeds which eventually will yield a harvest.
Ordinary people like us spread God's reign and that reign has the power to transform the world in extraordinary ways and surprising places. Today, the Lord tells us that the reign of God is not far off, but is as close as every backyard and that it will spread no matter what.
Jesus didn’t choose a perfect band of apostles, but they trusted in his word and did their best. We, too, have been chosen - and neither are we perfect. It will take the rest of our lives and beyond to realize what a gift the Gospel has been to us.