Tag Archives: success

The Numbers are Down:Mark 4:24-34

The Sower. Jame Tissot

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.

Palm Sunday

The liturgy, following the chronology of John’s gospel, records Jesus’ entering into Jerusalem, the Holy City, city of prophets and kings, site of God’s temple, just before Jesus’ passion and death.

Crowds excited by the news of Lazarus raised from the dead welcomed him. Some were natives of Jerusalem, some pilgrims for the Passover from other parts of the world, some his disciples now convinced of his extraordinary power. Most misunderstood him still.

“God save the Son of David!” they cried, casting coats and palm branches before him as he approached the city gates. They wanted a new David to breathe life into their nation. Wearing David’s mantle he could liberate them this Passover, the feast of Jewish liberation.

John’s gospel records that Jesus rejected the call to be their warrior king. Mounting a young donkey, he rode into Jerusalem, fulfilling the prophecy of Zephaniah: “Fear not, Daughter of Sion, your king is coming, mounted on a donkey’s colt.”

Not a fearsome warrior, he was the humble king the prophet described. In Jerusalem he would open his arms to the poor outcasts of the world..

“At the time his disciples did not understand this…” John concludes.

And do we yet understand,
Lord Jesus,
as the year go by
and we hear the story again?

Can a poor man on a donkey
dying like a slave
succeed?

We like success so much,
the kind you feel and touch
and put your hands on
right away.

What success
can anyone find
in a Cross?

Or is there success
in faithfulness?
When you can say:
“Your will be done!”
“Father, forgive them.”

Like the two from Emmaus
we hope for easy gain.
Come walk at our side,
and tell us what matters most,
O Lord.