A reflection for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
2 Corinthians 5:6-17
Ousmane Ba was an animator we met when visiting Christian Aid partners in Senegal, West Africa, some years ago. His task was to visit villages to encourage people to discuss the problems they face and help them to formulate possible solutions.
Ousmane sometimes found his work discouraging. He would work hard to organise something in a village, but often returned a month later to find there has been no follow-up. But he was often encouraged to find that the people were even more motivated that he was. He said: ‘My presence or absence does not affect them.’ They found an energy and motivation of their own, which carried their work forward.
Jesus says the kingdom of God is like this (Mark 4.26-29). It has its own energy and vitality, and grows independently of the effort and care of the sower. Not that we can be idle, but the growth of God’s justice and love in the world is not dependent on our efforts. Paul says: ‘In Christ, there is a new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5.17). This is no ‘static state’ but a new and dynamic energy, constantly producing fresh harvests.
Modern management techniques encourage us to control our efforts and time as efficiently as possible. This can be good, but is seriously flawed if it leads us to think we can always control the outcomes, and never be surprised by what God does – compare the way Samuel was surprised to find David, not his older brothers, to be God’s choice.
From Senegal to Brazil – the kingdom of God is bearing fruit
The kingdom of God, present and at work in the world, can seem tiny and insignificant, like a mustard seed, but can grow exponentially in unexpected ways.
In 1979 a group of sons of migrant workers in Brazil began to fight for the right to land. There were 650 people in a camp by a roadside from 1979–1982. By the end of 1983 just over half of those people managed to get land granted to them by the state government. They organised as the Landless People’s Movement in 1985 and have worked to secure land rights for more than 400,000 communities.
Today, our partner Movement of the Landless supports people like Jocelinia and her family (pictured above). Jocenilia and her young family are taking shelter in a tent above a busy roundabout in Brazil. She's struggled to provide for her children, and often faces hostility from people who see her as a 'dirty squatter'. We're working with Jocelinia to reclaim her dignity. One day, she hopes her son will have the right to his own land.
Mark’s Gospel uses the Greek word basileia to describe the reign of God, the same word used to describe the Roman empire. So perhaps the gospel is suggesting that the reign of God’s love and justice will displace human empire, not through human agency or planning, but through its own energy and vitality.
Is the message of the Mustard Seed parable, therefore, that people who are ‘sheltering’ under Rome’s empire, can find a home in God’s reign of justice when those human empires fall?
Creator of new life and hope,
forgive us that so often our vision
is limited to the things that are now,
rather than seeing what could be.
Help us to see your goodness
at work in this world,
to welcome its energy,
so that our lives and our society
may be remade in the image
of Christ our Saviour.
Give thanks and pray for the work of the Landless People’s Movement in Brazil, for their continued advocacy and effectiveness in ensuring the most marginalised are given access to the most essential of resources – land.
The weekly pointers for June have been provided by Gray Featherstone, Jean Harrison, Ben Humphries, Peter West, and Timothy Woods who were colleagues at Christian Aid, and together contributed to ‘Stories Worth Telling’ (published 2013), a series of reflections on lectionary readings, inspired by Christians Aid’s partners and friends around the world.
Published on 23 May 2018