Auxiliary Bishop Sylvester David offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Friday 29th January 2021, during this time of the Coronavirus pandemic. It is also available on the Archdiocese of Cape Town’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Please also see below the text of his reflection, primarily for the deaf.
Mark 4:26-34. The need for dormancy.
In this passage from the teaching section of Mark’s gospel, Jesus gives important lessons on how the kingdom of God works. It is mysterious. The farmer sows the seed and nature works in unseen ways to produce the appropriate fruit. These days using time delay techniques we can observe the shoots and seedlings developing, but the actual mechanics of the development are encoded and hidden inside the seed and with the collaboration of nature the seed sprouts. It will grow in its own time and at its own pace. Those giant redwood trees which the world admires all started with small seeds.
One lesson that we can take from this teaching is the lesson of dormancy. Wayne Muller, in a 1999 book entitled “Sabbath” gives useful information about this and I summarise his observations in this paragraph. Without its dormancy period, the seed will not produce. Unlike what it looks like, dormancy is not being idle. It is respecting its rhythm of life. When adverse conditions arise and plants cannot receive cues from the external environment, they then turn to their inner rhythms to receive directives for growth. Dormancy helps the seed to maximise its capacity and also to cope with climatic extremes.
Jesus uses this example for his own life, death and resurrection: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains a single grain. But if it falls into the ground and dies, it produces a rich harvest” (John12:24). For the Christian, there is the necessity of dying to the old self so that the new person could arise (cf. Colossians 3:3-4). Just as the seed surrenders itself to the care of nature in order to be fruitful, so too the Christian surrenders him-or-her self to the embrace of the Holy Spirit so as to produce fruit – “fruit that will last” (John 15:16). According to this verse (John 15:16), that is what Jesus commissioned us to do.
Lockdown gives us an opportunity to experience dormancy – but in order to harness its benefits we need to learn to cope with restlessness. That we need “to cope” is an indication that it is not easy. The story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:36-42) is helpful in this regard. When looking at this story we are tempted to identify with either the busy Martha or the dormant Mary. In reality they are meant to represent two parts of each of us – the part that works and the part that prays. The placing of this story is strategic in the Gospel of Luke. It occurs immediately after the parable of the Good Samaritan when we are tempted to go out onto the highways and byways to offer service, but it is as if the Gospel is saying: Hold on – you need your dormancy in order to be fruitful. That is what Jesus says at the end of the Mary and Martha episode: “It is Mary who has chosen the better part, and it is not to be taken from her” (Luke 10:42).
I will skip the story of the mustard seed and go to the last line of the passage. “… he explained everything to his disciples when they were by themselves” (Mark 4:34). This is a repetition of what we were taught earlier on in this chapter (Mark 4:10-12). The wording in the original indicates that “he spoke privately to his own” (Mark4:34). There is a strong element of intimacy in these words. In last week’s reflection I commented on Mark 3:14, that he called the twelve so that they “might be with him” and then be sent out. They would repeatedly come back to him as the source, and tell him what they had done; and he would remind them of the need to be by themselves (Mark 6:30-31). This is the pattern or rhythm of discipleship – work and prayer.
Let us pray: Lord, help us to authenticate our work by constantly returning to your Son who called us to bear fruit. Teach us about the rhythm of life which you have placed inside each of us. Help us to honour these rhythms so that our work may flourish. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen. [Blessing].