Mark 10: 17-52: A different kind of Kingdom

We’ve all seen Disney princess movies. We’ve all heard fairytales. Most of us have watched The Crown on Netflix. I haven’t watched The Princess Diaries, but I’m sure many of you will have. These all, invariably, involve kingdoms. All of these give us the same image of what a kingdom is meant to be like. It is run on opulence and grandeur: huge castles, giant banquets, gold, jewels, tiaras, big ball gowns, sashes, ceremonies. There are those in power; those who want power. There are the heroes, who get elevated to celebrity status, often with a whole fanfare and parade afterwards. Don’t forget the glitzy weddings, where anybody who is anybody attends.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex get married (image from wikipedia.org)

However, the Kingdom that Jesus presents in Mark 10 is radically different. The only problem is that the disciples and other people who desire to follow Jesus haven’t realised this yet. The rich man is still consumed by ideas of worldly wealth, security and trappings. James and John want status and recognition. Jesus says outright that the kingdom is not for those who desire wealth, status, image, authority or power. It is for the least, for the humble, for those that give these things up.

The passages of the rich man who cannot let go of his possessions and the squabbles of James and John are ins stark contrast to Jesus’ prediction of his death and the attitude of Bartimaeus. Jesus is going to be handed over to be mocked, tortured and killed. He will be spat on, accused and executed. It is not a life of glitz and glamor. It is messy, painful, dirty, tragic, horrific. But in that, Jesus says that he will rise again. In submitting yourself to the pain, hardships, humiliation, Jesus gives us the power to rise in the midst of it.

Bartimaeus, a blind man, also has the right attitude. Rather than asking Jesus to exalt him and to give him status, he just asks for mercy. “Son of David, have mercy on me!” he cries. In our humility, we should all recognise our weakness and our vulnerability and our need for Jesus’ mercy. And in asking for this, he will show grace and kindness. We need to realise our spiritual blindness and our need for spiritual sight.

So, if you think the kingdom of God is about power and popularity, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, it is a kingdom of refugees all seeking mercy from the divine saviour. This is the kingdom into which you are all invited.

Mark 4: a fruitful gospel

In Mark 4, we get various parables about preaching and the Kingdom of God. A lot of these are quite well known, especially the first, which is the Parable of the Sower. The interesting thing is, though, that other than the initial planting in each of the parables, the farmer does not do much else until harvest.

First, in the Parable of the Sower, the farmer only does that. He casts the seed. The rest of what happens is not really due to any effort on his part. The destruction of the seed is not because of faulty action of the farmer; there is no judgement on him for where his seed lands. Then the seed that does produce the crop does so because of the soil, not the efforts of the farmer. Even the multiplication of fruit seems arbitrary. Jesus says that some seeds produce crop thirty times the original, some sixty, some one hundred. What Jesus doesn’t tell us is the reason. He doesn’t say, because the farmer was diligent in his weeding, watering and fertilising. It just says the seed that fell on good soil produced crop of some number.

In another parable within this chapter, it seems to be making this point more explicitly. Again it uses an analogy of seeds. Verses 27-28 says,

Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.

The passage literally tells us that it does not matter what the farmer does. The farmer could rest or toil, but the seed, which symbolises the Kingdom of God here, grows regardless. The farmer does not even know how it grows; we, if we are honest with ourselves, don’t know how the Kingdom of God grows either. The seed produces crop all by itself.

Of course, that does not mean that God does not use us and that we do not have a role in spreading the gospel. (This has been used as an argument against mission; it’s up to God not us.) But what it does tell us is that it is not under our control. So I don’t know why some churches are number obsessed when the Bible literally says, sometimes it’s thirty, sometimes it’s one hundred but there is no reason. Basically, our job is to sow the seeds. Then we watch as God allows his Kingdom to take root and to grow. And what a marvellous miracle that is.