Agents of change
Today’s readings: Ezekiel 17, 22-24; 2 Corinthians 5, 6-10; Mark 4, 26-34.
Mark’s version of the parable of the sower highlights a basic truth about Christianity, that it was not meant to be by nature a religion of the masses. Actually the aspect of Christianity mostly in crisis today is the idea that it is a culture or that religion can in some way be the basis of social cohesion.
Christian belief can hold ground in the soil of the individual’s heart and only as a consequence can it flourish as witness on a broader level. There was a time not very long ago when religion was the very basis of society. So religion is quite an important factor in studying how society in the past was brought together and in establishing the changing modes of its cohesion in history.
As Charles Taylor writes, whenever we try to come to terms with secularisation, we tend to focus on the decline of religious belief and practice in the modern world, the declining numbers who enter church, or who declare themselves believers. But it can also mean the retreat of religion from the public space or the shredding of the religious identity of our institutions and of society in general.
Today’s gospel focusses on the fact that the individual is not only reflective, but also an agent of change. We are agents not of a central intelligence unit, and so subservient to the rules of a man-made institution. We are supposed to be agents of change empowered by God’s grace, by His anointing. The gospel does not liken God’s kingdom to a big institution or empire but just to a seed which grows in the soil of the heart as long as that soil is cultivated.
The Church today suffers from amnesia and seems to have lost touch with its origins. Both on the global and local levels, it has lost the capacity for a deep and true reform of itself and is likewise incapable of grasping the complexity of the post-modern world with which it is called to be in constant dialogue.
I acknowledge this may sound a generalisation, but very few are those in the Church from top down who are really in touch. On a general level, it is still an alienated Church.
Alienation weighs down, and renders Christianity incapable of responding adequately to an interrogating society and, worse still, to questioning people who are in no way satisfied with the answers of the catechism and feel strongly that they cannot belong. This endangers and generates scepticism with regard to the metaphor of the sheltering branches which both the prophet Ezekiel and Mark use today.
The power of Christianity lies not in its widespread grip on society and culture as in days gone by. Tertullian, an intellectual and convert to Christianity who became a Church father in the second century, affirmed that it was not the coherence of doctrine that brought him to Christianity but the witness of martyrs.
As Ched Myers in his political reading of Mark’s gospel writes, “Against the cynicism of the economic determinism of the system, Jesus pits the revolutionary patience and hope of the kingdom”. The growth of the kingdom, according to the parable, will be neither obvious nor controllable. The kingdom cannot be imposed on culture. That is one of the historical mistakes of Christendom and it explains why the clear separation between Church and state is now here to stay, clearly attributing autonomy to politics.
The Church today is called to find other ways and means to sow the seed and prepare the soil so that “night and day, the seed can sprout and grow”. We cannot provoke the harvest. What instead we are urged to do is to tend to the sowing and have the wisdom of discernment to know the time of the harvest.
The way of the sower calls for patience and hope and the sheltering promised is no longer the cultural or social umbrella type of shelter, but the harmony and the wholeness that God’s enduring pedagogy can give back to those who are seeking and whose soil may be contaminated with all sorts of pesticides that weaken its potential.