11th Sunday - B - 2012.      Mark 4:26-34

At the close of the 19th century, our world was caught up in a spirit of optimism - progress was inevitable - that 'golden age' was upon us and nothing could prevent its coming. And now more than 100 years later, what a difference - millions are mired in a spirit of pessimism, ancient animosities continue, poverty and starvation abound, the planet is more and more polluted. The prevailing mood is that things are not improving.

We now know that the optimism of the 19th century was shallow and superficial. Utopia was not just around the corner and science was not going to solve all our problems. In retrospect this is obvious to us, and we wonder how our ancestors could have been so naive.  But could it be that we are as far off base now as they were then? Perhaps our current spirit of pessimism is no more valid than their spirit of optimism. Maybe our problems are solvable. Maybe the future of the human race is not as bleak as it is currently painted.  Our Gospel reading for to-day offers some insights that might help us to put both of those perspectives in perspective - keep us balanced.

Jesus told two stories, both of which illustrate the Kingdom of God. In the first he spoke of it in agricultural terms - how the farmer prepares the land, sows the seed , removes the weeds, and when the seed produces the harvest the farmer gathers in the crop.   In the second story the Kingdom of God is compared to a mustard seed. It is so small as to seem so inconsequential. But that small beginning produces an unbelievable result. Size certainly must never be confused with significance!  How do these stories speak to our present world - perhaps to that world inside each of us; inside our society; inside the community of our Church?

Firstly it tells us that we all have a part to play. This was the mistake of those 19th century optimists. Mixing scientific development with Darwin’s theory of evolution, they decided that progress was inevitable - the world just had to be heading into a golden age of peace and prosperity that was imminent.  We know what happened to that dream - it came to an end in the trenches and mud and death of WW1. There we learned that progress was not inevitable. Likewise, the reign of God/ God’s Kingdom of love forgiveness, peace and justice will not come automatically.  Jesus emphasised that in the story of the farmer. For him, or for any of us, to expect a harvest without an investment of labour is sheer folly. For you and me to expect the Kingdom of God, without our participation and cooperation is equally as foolish. We will not wake up some morning to find that perfect world in which to house the perfect human family. Between this present reality and that future hope, there is so much work to be done.

Secondly, these stories also tell us, that after we have done our part, we have to leave the rest to God. This is what the farmer did. He knew, as we must learn, that a bountiful harvest demands two seasons of human effort - a time of planting and a time for reaping. Other than those, everything depends on nature, the vitality in the seed and the fertility in the soil.  This story rebukes both our human pride and our human pessimism. There is only so much we can do, but we must do it. But in comparison to the whole process it is such a small part. We must never leave out the mixture that is God’s part - it is always there, and it will manifest itself in God’s time, not necessarily ours.

I said a moment ago that these stories rebuke our pride and pessimism. True - but it also comes to us as an encouragement. It reflects the faith that kept Jesus actively involved and hopefully expectant all of his life. That was not easy. He, like us, had his doubts, temptations, wondered what his life was all about, where was this Kingdom of God to be realised and where would it eventuate. Jesus was neither a superficial optimist nor a gloomy pessimist. He was the ultimate realist. His confidence in the future was based on this practical philosophy - do your part, and leave the rest to God