The Harmony of the Kingdom
Insights from the Gospel of Mark
One of the crucial words that kept returning to my spiritual life during the many dark days of the pandemic was the word “harmony.” It seems odd, I know, but bear with me. My sense of harmony during those days was best understood (and still is) by the act of becoming attuned with the Creator, especially as conductor of creation. Through harmony in one’s life, like how a conductor leads an orchestra, the beauty of existences can show forth. God, who is our creator and conductor, not only assembles the creation by calling it together but also creates all its members in the first place.
Even though God kept calling me to that word, there were many moments during the pandemic that did not feel harmonious. What caused my disharmony? I am an extrovert, so being away from people took a toll on me. My parishioners were experiencing death and loss, and I could not go to them in the hospital. Last, I was reassigned, so the pandemic robbed me of the opportunity to say goodbye properly to my people.
Yet, through all the chaos of the pandemic, Our Lord kept whispering to me that one word — harmony. As I pondered why my Lord kept whispering that word to me, the deeper reality of my disharmony began to become revealed. In that more profound realization of disharmony, I began to find a temptation plaguing me. It was the temptation to embrace spiritual blindness and deafness.
As I wrestled with God’s message about harmony, along with the temptation to spiritual blindness and deafness, his hand brought me to one of the parables of the Kingdom: “He said, ‘This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come’” (Mk 4:26-29).
Heaven and Earth
I love this parable because it shows a harmonically attuned relationship between the created world — heaven and God’s grace. Sometimes, we forget the beauty of God’s creation because of the evil in the world, but this parable reminds us that God enters, guides and helps the growth of creation via his presence. Grace is not against nature, but aids and supports it to grow up toward the heavens so it can give praise to God. It is the two together, heaven and earth, that offer a glimpse into the harmony of God’s redemptive and salvific act known in the person of Jesus Christ via his life, death and resurrection.
The parable first introduces us to a person who scatters seeds. In other parables, that person is God, but we are told this person knows not how the seeds grow. Thus we can conclude that we could be that person scattering the seeds of the Kingdom.
First, though, we need to realize that part of our work is the need to acknowledge that we do not know how those seeds will grow. They are God’s seeds, not ours. Likewise, there is no reference in the parable that the person owns the land. We are just told she or he scatters over the land. This parable tells us that we are not meant to limit the call to spread the seeds to the mere place we currently reside. The seeds of the Kingdom are not meant for our individual lives only. Seeds only realize their potential when they are released from our hands.
Faith and Hope
From there, we are told this person sleeps at night and rises for the day. In these two actions, we see the manifestation of faith and hope. The person can sleep at night because of the faith that roots them in God, who causes the plants to rise, even if it is difficult to understand how God does it. Therefore, this is a sleep of peace that occurs from a heart engulfed by faith, which gives trust to the heart, trust in the God who brought forth and cares for all creation. Next, the person can rise for the day because their heart also has the hope that God will be with them each day. The evidence for this hope is seen in the slow and natural process of the scattered seeds now rising out of the earth and reaching up to the heavens.
As we enter the stages of growth in the parable, we are first reminded of an intrinsic element in this process by the term “sprout.” By giving the word sprout, Jesus reminds us that this is a process that requires patience. Remember, the earth of the parable is the human heart. A heart with the seeds of the Kingdom scattered upon it. Thus, as people who have the seeds of the Kingdom in us, we need to act with patience, because they will grow slowly over time. Patience is love shown through endurance extended over time.
As the seeds germinate in our hearts, we must always be on the lookout for when they sprout so we can spot them in us and others. Knowing that this process of the Kingdom requires patience, Christ tells us in the parable about the stages of that growth as the harmony between the heavens and the earth becomes syncopated with each other. As an encouragement during this slow process, the parable says, the land yields the harvest. The human heart, like the land, helps to yield the Kingdom.
The Blade to the Ear
Once we know the truth about the Kingdom’s growth, we know as it grows in us and breaks forth into the world it will yield fruit, a source of nourishment. This fruit is being revealed to us first through the blade. A blade of a plant like a sword has a sharp edge to it. Why? So, it can cut through the wind. As the seed grows, the blade offers protection from damaging gusts that exist in the world. As the Kingdom grows in our hearts, we need that blade to safeguard our hearts from the mighty winds of the world that press upon us, seeking to disorient us so we will not reach up to the heavens.
From the blade comes the ear. An ear reaches out into the world to show the fruit that resides in the seed. Yet, as it reaches out into the world, it still receives the light from the sun as its energy and vital source of life. Our ears of grain play the same role. Our ears reach out into the world, telling others we are ready to receive them, hear them and offer them the nourishment they need. While our ears are extended out and open to the world, they can also receive the Lord as he continues to show us his presence from above and in the world.
Maturing for the Harvest
However, the ear still requires growth. It needs to mature. Maturation shows forth the fullness of that harmony that exists in the growing process. It is a process between heaven and earth where the seeds and their fruit reside, a place we call the world. The fullness of fruit gives evidence of the Kingdom’s splendor, which is breaking into the world. It is in this ripeness that signal that harvest time begins. A harvest that the seeds of the Kingdom are offered for, an offering made freely to us. Remember, seeds contain within themselves the promise of the harvest.
At this moment, we hear about a sickle. The word sickle at first can appear quick dramatic because of the violence contained in the image. Challenging words always require us to wrestle with them for understanding. Now, the word “sickle” has a foundation in the verb “to cut.” The ear’s fruit is being cut from the old way of growth that is no longer necessary. Being cut from the old way of growth allows the Kingdom’s fruit to be offered as a pure gift to others, who are also meant for the Kingdom. As the seeds were given freely to the earth of the heart to grow, its fruit must be given in the same way to others, so the Kingdom’s charity can grow. Therefore, the sickle and the harvest are not meant to be symbols of death but of life and thus joy. The harvest is a joyful time. Harvest celebrations are about the fullness of life, a life passed on to others.
The Splendor of the Kingdom
From these four little verses from the Gospel of Mark above, we are given a hint of the splendor of the Kingdom. We are meant for and called into that reality, yet a reality that we are only beginning to experience in our lives on the earth. Thus the growth of these seeds calls forth a need for harmony between the soil (the human heart), the seed of the Kingdom itself, the heavens, and the world in which the soil resides. Again, as a needed reminder, the harmony of the Kingdom requires patience. Also, the person who scatters the seeds of the Kingdom and oversees its growth needs humility because they may not fully understand how it comes forth from the soil. God’s ways are not our ways (cf. Is 55:8-9).
Yet, our God desires to be known by us, and this process of his revelation is done slowly for our benefit. It is by harmony in one’s life that a person begins to see the beauty that resides in this simple process of scattering and caring for the seeds of the Kingdom. Seeds entrusted to us by God. In harmony, all these aspects of the process of the Kingdom are joined and work together. Thus, through the process of growth, a kind of revelation, of music, is created — that is, music that rises to God in praise of him. Praising the God who created and allowed for such beauty to exist. Why? Because through this beauty of creation God’s loving presence is made known. All that exists was loved into existence first by God, the creator and conductor of creation. Through harmony, which is made known through the spreading and caring for the seeds of the Kingdom, the beauty of creation, even during dark times in the world, is made known. Thus, by being made known, the love of God is exposed and audible for all to see, hear, feel, receive and share.
FATHER NICHOLAS BLACKWELL is a Carmelite friar serving in the Archdiocese of New York via the St. Elias Province of the Carmelite Order. Follow his YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/c/thefrankfriar or his podcast under the name “The Frank Friar.”
Harmony in the First Christian Community
Speaking about harmony in a homily on April 21, 2020, Pope Francis said: “This is the promise that Jesus makes: to send the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is capable of wondrous things that we cannot even imagine.
“An example is this first Christian community, which is not a fantasy, this is what they say here: it is a model, at which we can arrive when there is docility and one allows the Holy Spirit to enter and to transform. An ideal community, let’s say. It is true that immediately after this, problems begin, but the Lord makes us see up to what point we can arrive if we are open to the Holy Spirit, if we are docile.
“There is harmony in this community. The Holy Spirit is the master of harmony; he is capable of making it, and he has made it happen here. It is what needs to happen in our hearts, many things in us must change to create harmony, because he himself is harmony. Also the harmony between the Father and the Son: it is he, the love of harmony. And he, with harmony, creates these things such as this community, which was so harmonious. But then, history tells us — the same book of the Acts of the Apostles — of many problems in the community. This is a model: the Lord has permitted this model of an almost ‘heavenly’ community, to make us see where we should arrive.”