Numbers seem to indicate power and popularity. We think that way; Jesus’ disciples must have thought that way too. In Mark’s gospel Jesus begins his ministry in Capernaum before an enthusiastic crowd. At the end of his first day, the whole town gathers at the door of Peter’s house and word reaches out to other towns and places that a prophet has come. The numbers go up. (Mark 1, 21-34)
But then enthusiasm dies down as Jesus’ authority is questioned. Religious leaders from Jerusalem and the followers of Herod Antipas cast doubts about him. His own hometown, Nazareth, takes a dim view of him.. Gradually, Capernaum and the other towns that welcomed Jesus enthusiastically turn against him. His numbers go down.
Why are the number going down, his disciples must have wondered? It didn’t make sense. Jesus’ answer comes in Mark’s gospel today. God’s kingdom is coming; God is at work in the world, but God‘s working in this world, but human beings are mostly unaware of it:
“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.” (Mark 4, 28-34)
Great power is at work in the scattered seed, but we know little how it grows. The seed takes time, with its own law of growth; a great harvest will come, but still there’s mystery we don’t see. We sleep.
Meanwhile, we worry about numbers. Why are growing numbers giving up going to church or synagogue? Why are there so few vocations to our religious communities? So many of the good things in this world seem to be diminishing.
What can we do? Look into the signs of the time. Treasure the seed we have. Scatter it as we can. Be patient as we sleep. The Kingdom of God comes.