June 17, 2012 - Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 17:22-24
Psalm 92:2-3, 13-16
2 Corinthians 5:6-10
Mark 4:26-34

I think that a modern person might be tempted to quibble with Jesus’ parable. Jesus says that the seed sprouts and grows but the one who planted it does not know how. Well, that certainly was true 2000 years ago but is it still true? I might not know exactly how a plant sprouts and grows, but lots of biologists do, and if I wanted to I am sure that I could look up on Wikipedia a detailed account down to the exact biochemical processes that cause the seed to react to water and grow into new life.

Indeed, all of science is dedicated to changing the situation that Jesus describes throughout the Gospels, but especially in the Gospel reading today. There was a time when humans had rain come down and could not predict it days in advance. There was a time when we looked at the moon and did not have pieces of it stored away in warehouses.

And it is not only science but cultural progress too. For many of us, our only experience of seed growing into plants is when we planted the beans in Dixie cups in third grade. Even a lot of our gardening these days is done with plants that were grown in greenhouses. The whole concept of taking a precious portion of the food for the year and putting it in the ground with expectation that it would grow into more food for next year is lost on us. That experience of subsistence farming that all those who heard Jesus would have known personally is foreign to us, even most of those who farm these days with GPS and combines.

So when we have a Gospel like the one today, science and progress are the enemies of understanding. Sure we understand intellectually the point that he is making, but we cannot feel its impact because of how separated we are from the realities he is speaking of. What is the solution? We could live like the Amish do and get back in touch with the realities. Some people do that, but it is not very practical. One can be romantic about it, but modern medicine and modern harvest yields are miracles that we can only thank God for.

We can imagine what life would be like if the whole world seemed magical again, if our continued existence depended on the success of a crop that we planted with our own hands. Of course, our imagination will always fall short, but it is a powerful tool for getting in touch with the readings today. A person does well to spend time imagining life out of the Bible: what it would be like to be one of that crowd that was fed with a little bread and fish, what it would be like to walk on water with Jesus, what it would be like to plant a small field and depend entirely on the success of something that we only have a tiny bit of control over.

We live in a world that is very different from the experience that Jesus lived in. Our world has changed in amazing ways in just the last 20 years, and who can guess correctly what the world 20 years from now will be like? It would be great if Jesus came and told us some parables about cell phones and the internet. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like an iPhone.”

But since that is not going to happen, we are left with the important question: is the Bible becoming irrelevant? Many people say that the world has changed a lot and so most of the stories in the Bible need to get updated, especially most of the morality. Something was taught by Jesus and believed for century after century, but we know better now.

This is the great modern struggle: the idea that sometimes the older is better. By the end of two years, I am unhappy with the old technology in my phone that used to be the very best. If 1.0 was good, 2.0 is better. How can we, in a world that is constantly changing, appreciate the value of those things that never change? We want to see the latest viral video, but every time you come to Church we read from the same old book, and Mass is celebrated the same old way. What does it say about us that “same old” is not a compliment?

Our God is the same old God. He existed before time, and he is never going to change. The universe we live in will always be the same old universe. No matter how much scientific progress we make, no matter what is invented in the future, our situation is the same old human situation. What matters, what really matters, is the same old thing that always mattered. What TV shows we have seen, what our high score on Doodle Jump is, how fast our computer is: these things only matter in this world and even then not really. How much we loved other people and how much we loved God: this is what matters.

We all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ and be repaid according to what we did in the body, whether good or evil. That is the same today as when it was written 2000 years ago. That fact, which ought to define how we live our life here, will never change. Whether, 20 years from now, we are all driving flying cars and have robot servants or we are all back to subsistence farming after some big disaster, how we treat other people and how we stretch our minds to reach out to God is all that will matter, because it is all that matters right now and it is all that has ever mattered.

Being mean to people is bad, whether you hit them with a stick or insult them on Facebook. Daily prayer is good, whether you take time away from hopscotch or video games. Even as we become more and more separated from the parables about farming and herding sheep, the point of the parables still apply. Even if we have figured out how plants grow, we will never know how the Kingdom of God is working in this world, how people are brought to greater faith in subtle ways that are not visible day to day but add up over a whole season. And that is what matters.