11TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: WITH FAITH, THE MUSTARD SEED KEEPS GROWING
The default human inclination is to worry. We worry about marriage, worry about giving birth, worry about children, worry about health, worry about business, worry about finance, worry about work, worry about school, worry about food, worry about friends, worry about weather, worry about vacation, worry about others either doing things right or not. We worry about moving into a new apartment, worry about having a new tenant, worry about the children going back to school, worry about them learning from home. We worry practically about everything. Then we try to control the things we worry about. When we are not able to do so, we get frustrated. We fight. We lose it. Unfortunately, that just seems to be how the human brain is wired. Paul reminds us today of the better alternative, that we should walk by faith, not by sight. Christ uses the parable of the kingdom of God to bring home this great message, “it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.” The worry syndrome in our lives can be addressed by identifying with the two theological virtues of faith and hope pictured in the parables of today’s gospel.
Let us begin by asking how much, as believers, we claim to walk by faith whereas our inner inclination tries to control what we desire. I will use the recently conducted Pentecost retreat organized by the Family Apostolate here in our parish as an example. By the time we started planning the retreat, certain things were not quite clear. Mostly because the retreat was to be co-hosted with the neighboring parish (St. Philip Neri), putting the thoughts together and working at the same speed were a little tough. We started worrying about attendance and signup, about the COVID guidelines, music, food, priest confessors, and the entire structure of the schedule for each night. One morning I was in the chapel trying to put everything together in my head (unfortunately I do that even in front of the Blessed Sacrament), then I noticed I was not able to concentrate. My brain just shut down. I dropped the paper and pen in my hand and decided just to sit for a while and not think. In my mind, I asked God to guide me. The only thing I heard was the tiny voice saying to me, “It will work out well.” Believe me, I was not sure what that meant, all I knew was that the retreat was going on as planned. That retreat worked out well in the end. In fact, it seemed perfectly inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the numerous feedback we have received since after that seemed to be affirming the mustard seed parable; something that began very little ended up making huge impact on the souls of those who experienced it.
In the gospels, Christ often speaks in parables. The gospel of today seems to pay particular attention to the use of such parables. Mark writes, “With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it. Without parables he did not speak to them…” So, how could we explain the meaning of parables? The Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers, and Proclaimers of the Word explains it this way: “First, the word itself means “a comparison” of one thing to another, an analogy. Second, parables are fictional stories derived from everyday life experiences but often with a surprising twist that prompts the hearers to dig deeply into their meaning. Third, in most cases, gospel parables are presented without interpretation, but the literary context – what comes before and after the parable -often can help us know how to interpret them.” One thing is clear, Christ loved to use parables because he considered them a vital tool for communicating his message, his mission, and his identity.
The first parable shows faith in God and of his will in our lives. It tells us that the reign or kingdom of God grows in ways that we do not know. This reign would often not be visible to our human sight. We fail to see the signs of its growth and even of its fruits. But in the fullness of time, the kingdom becomes visible and ready for harvest. Here, we can recall the life of certain saints which did not start off well. We can recall the stories of their conversion. Imagine someone like Saint Monica watching her son Augustine wallow in sin and waywardness. Imagine how she felt as a mom all those years as she prayed for Augustine’s conversion. Obviously, the seed planted in Augustine at the time was not visible, but that seed continued growing silently. It took Monica’s faith to believe that something radical would happen for her son, the reason why she remained resilient and resolute. Augustine’s conversion was only the harvest of the seed of faith sown in him by the faith of Monica.
Conversion is a process which does not happen automatically but requires patient endurance. Most times, I see parents worrying about the behaviors of their children, their inordinate pursuit of wealth, their drinking habits, or their slack in faith. Many parents who are believers resort to fighting physically and often try to control the situation in our usual human way. That is a good fight to fight for your child as a parent especially as a mom. But it is more important to give the fight to God and to pray along. How long have you been praying for that particular intention? Does it feel as if you’re tired and cannot pray anymore? Does it feel like you need to fix it, as if God is silent to your need? This is what Saint Paul means when he says, “We are always courageous, although we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:6). I will encourage you to visit the Blessed Sacrament for your child or for someone dear to you. Offer the Holy Mass for that intention. Receive the Blessed Eucharist for the person. Go to adoration and place him/her in front of Jesus. Pray the mysteries of the rosary for it. As you sleep, Jesus, the Lord of the harvest will water his vineyard. He will eventually harvest the soul placed before him. Sometimes, it does not even happen in your time, but it does happen. That is faith.
The second parable describes how this kingdom grows, and to that, Jesus uses the image of the mustard seed. This seed, when sown, is the smallest of all seeds. But it springs up and becomes the largest of plants which hosts the birds of the sky. As a metaphor of hope, the mustard seed communicates a future, a guarantee of the expectations of our heart’s desires in Christ. But above all, hope resides in the understanding that redemption comes from Christ leading us to heaven, which can be said to be the “largest of plants” which puts forth large branches and hosts all created things. Pope Benedict, in the encyclical, Spe Salvi, maintained that faith and hope are somewhat identical. He explains, “To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope” (no. 3). The most important thing in our life is how much we please God, not how much we are able to control persons, places, or things around us, and for that reason, Christ says, “for you cannot make even one hair white or black” (Matt. 5:36). So does our worry not end up creating more worries?
My challenge for you this weekend is that you try