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Fourth Sunday after Pentecost — June 16, 2024

Teri McDowell Ott writes about interdependence and Mark 4:26-34.

Mark 4:26-34
Year B

During a long and brutal winter, three sisters visited a community where food was scarce, the people starving. Despite this famine, the three sisters were greeted warmly, and fed generously. In gratitude for this hospitality, the three sisters gifted the people with three seeds – corn, bean, and squash – a small package that ensured the people would never go hungry again.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and a scientist, shares this origin story in Braiding Sweetgrass and reflects on its spiritual and biological significance. These three seeds naturally complement each other to produce an abundance of food. She writes:

“The lessons of reciprocity are written clearly in a Three Sisters garden. Together their stems inscribe what looks to me like a blueprint for the world, a map of balance and harmony. The corn stands eight feet tall; rippling green ribbons of leaf curl away from the stem in every direction to catch the sun…The bean twines around the corn stalk, weaving itself between the leaves of corn, never interfering with their work…Spread around the feet of the corn and beans is a carpet of big broad squash leaves that intercept the light that falls among the pillars of corn… The organic symmetry of forms belongs together; the placement of every leaf, the harmony of shapes speak their message. Respect one another, support one another, bring your gift to the world and receive the gifts of others, and there will be enough for all.”

Mark’s text for this fourth Sunday after Pentecost also tells a story of seed and sower that, working together, grow into a great bush whose branches offer an abundance of gifts. The mustard seed could grow into a bush the size of a house, a great nesting place for birds who eat the seed pods that can also be ground into a powder for curries and condiments. The bushes’ leaves are also edible, eaten raw in salads or cooked as mustard greens.

Jesus’ parable reminds us that we are co-creators with God and the earth. When we respect these relationships and support one another, the kingdom of God is revealed — a place of plenty; a place where all God’s creatures can bloom, and grow and flourish.

But when we neglect these relationships and God’s blueprint of balance, all creation suffers. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote of this suffering in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Our interdependence is a universal truth reflected in many religions and cultures: Buddhism’s “interbeing,” Africa’s ubuntu (I am because you are), Jewish echad, (oneness of all beings) and the Navajo’s hózhó (the interdependence of everything in the physical and spiritual realm) name a few.

God patterns our lives with this reciprocity, this mutuality. Yet, we buck and oppose God’s ordering. We compete for resources and hoard what we have. We double down on our certainties and fail to investigate the wisdom of others. We divide ourselves into us vs. them, and place the natural world beneath us, as our submissive subject rather than our equitable partner. The seeds we sow determine our future reality. If we sow seeds of division, of subjugation, of opposition, we will harvest poverty, hatred and violence. But if we sow seeds of justice, equity and peace, we will harvest a world where all can flourish.

Jesus taught in parables to help us recognize the truth of who we are and who we could become. Emily Dickinson famously wrote “Tell the truth but tell it slant” because “the Truth must dazzle gradually.” Jesus follows this model. In Mark 4:26-34, the truth is revealed in a parable about a tenacious seed, scattered by a gardener, that grows to offer abundance. This process is a mystery to the gardener, but not to Jesus — the One who teaches us that walking in the path of love, respect and harmony leads to a world where no one goes unfed.

Questions for reflection

  1. What thoughts, ideas, images or feelings arose as you read this passage?
  2. What examples of our interdependence can you share? Interdependence with other people? Interdependence with nature?
  3. What can you or your church do to be a co-creator of the Kingdom of God, building a world where no one goes unfed?

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