sabato 16 giugno 2018

«Vobis datum est mysterium regni Dei»

Mark is the shortest of the gospels. Among the four gospels, Mark is perhaps the one that reports fewer words of Jesus: there are no long discourses in it. We also find just few parables: I have counted only six in the whole gospel; five of them in chapter four. Today’s liturgy presents two of these. Both of them are very short comparisons: their shortness emphasizes their enigmatic character. Mark, at the end of today’s passage, informs us that “with many such parables [Jesus] spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it. Without parables he did not speak to them, but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.” This note of the evangelist is interesting, because, on one hand, it seems that Jesus tells parables to make himself understood by people; but, on the other hand, it seems that there are two different kinds of teaching, one more obscure for the crowds, and one plainer, reserved for the disciples. 

For modern mentality, Jesus’ behavior could seem discriminatory: why didn’t Jesus explain his parables to everybody? Why did he reveal their meaning only to his disciples? To answer these questions, we have first to understand the purpose of parables: through them Jesus illustrates the mystery of the kingdom of God—and that explains their enigmatic character. This mystery is revealed only to those who follow Jesus and believe in him. Without faith it is impossible to understand the parables and thus to grasp the mystery of the kingdom of God. Few verses before today’s selection, Jesus says to his disciples, “The mystery of the kingdom of God has been granted to you (vobis datum est mysterium regni Dei). But to those outside everything comes in parables, so that ‘they may look and see but not perceive, and hear and listen but not understand, in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven’” (Mk 4:11-12). We could say, the kingdom of God is for all, but not all are for the kingdom of God.

Today’s parables highlight two particular aspects of the kingdom of God. The first parable—the parable of the growing seed—is peculiar to Mark. In order to grow, the seed has to be sown by the sower; but, once he has scattered the seed on the land, the sower has finished his job, until the harvest: the growth of the seed does not depend on him; the seed grows of its own accord; the sower not even knows how. He will have to intervene again only at harvest time, to reap the crop grown by itself. Meaning: The spread of the kingdom of God does not depend on us: we have to announce it tirelessly; but its growth is not the result of our efforts; it depends only on its own inherent strength. 

The second parable—which we find also in the other two synoptic gospels (Matthew and Luke)—is about the outcome of the growth: the mustard seed becomes the largest of plants. The point of this parable is the disproportion between the smallness of the seed and the greatness of the plant. The same disproportion is highlighted in the first reading: a tender shoot is torn off from the crest of a cedar and planted on a high mountain, to become, in its turn, a majestic cedar. Both readings mention large branches and birds that come to dwell under their shade. Many see in this detail the universality of the kingdom of God: all peoples are called to it; the kingdom of God is not reserved only for a privileged few. So, we should not be surprised at the small beginnings of the kingdom of God; it will grow until it is established in its fullness. There is no space for discouragement, when we see a seed so tiny; there is only need of patience: we have just to wait for the seed to grow. And it will grow. Infallibly.