Fourth Sunday of Pentecost, Proper 6, June 16, 2024: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10,[11-13],14-17;
Mark 4:26-34

Samuel goes to find a King for Israel, and the Lord tells him that one of the sons of Jesse the Bethlehemite will be the one. Jesse, called upon to produce his sons, first brings out the oldest. It should be the oldest son, that’s what is expected. Samuel is impressed, but the Lord tells him that this is not the one. “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” One by one, seven of Jesse’s sons pass before Samuel, but none are chosen. When pressed, Jesse admits that his youngest son is out keeping sheep. David is called. He is described as having beautiful eyes and being handsome. And the Lord tells Samuel, “this is the one”.

How often are we expecting one person to be key when another turns out to be more important? I’m pretty sure Jesse was just as surprised as Samuel that it was his youngest son who was chosen. Many of us know the story that follows: David is a key figure in the history of the people of Israel, called the author of the psalms we say each Sunday. It’s important that Joseph is “of the house and lineage of David”, linking Jesus to this royal line. David matters. As we will see over our readings this summer, David does some things that are noble, and others that are not so noble. But it’s easy to forget that he was not the expected choice. It’s a reminder that, as in the words of William Cowper’s hymn, “God moves in mysterious ways/ His wonders to perform”.

Our gospel reading today tells us of other mysteries: the way the Kingdom of Heaven grows. It is like seeds that we plant: we don’t know how they grow, but they do. And then farmers will harvest them. Or, Jesus tells his disciples, it is like a mustard seed: it grows from a tiny seed to a great bush, big enough for birds to nest in it.

Here’s the thing: in Jesus’ time mustard was not a cultivated crop, but a weed. Mustard will self-seed. You cannot control where it will grow. Farmers might not welcome the appearance of mustard, because it disrupted their plans. We are familiar with the sense that with the Kingdom of God something small becomes something big. But we often forget that the Kingdom of God takes its own shape, and grows where it will and how it will. In spite of the efforts of church administrators over 2000 years, the Kingdom has been deeply resistant to fitting in with their plans. Many of those now revered as saints, after all, were actually finding their own way to live out the Kingdom whether or not the organized church agreed!

We are part of the Kingdom, and we scatter our seeds. We never know which will grow. It may not be the ones we expect, and they may not grow where we think they should. But David was not expected to be the one chosen by Samuel, and the mustard plant sends its seeds all over. Amazing things can happen, if we just let them. We cannot control it, because God does indeed move in mysterious ways.

White mustard, the type native to the Mediterranean.

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