11th Sunday 2012B
The final lines of the award-winning film biography of Mahatma Gandhi have been a source of encouragement for many. As his ashes are being scattered over the water, we hear Gandhi’s voice: “Whenever I despair, I remember that the way of truth and love has always won. There may be tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they may seem invincible, but in the end, they always fail.”
I don’t know whether the movie gives us an accurate quote from Gandhi or not, but his words certainly build on the message in today’s Gospel.
The power of the Kingdom is what Gandhi is describing in the film’s closing words: “…the way of truth and love has always won.” Although he was a Hindu, Gandhi knew and respected Christ’s teaching. And when we as Christians are tempted to despair at the oppression or violence in our world—whether on the global level or in our personal lives--we must remember that the Kingdom’s truth will prevail, and the love of God has overcome all, in Jesus Christ.
The people who heard Jesus tell the parables of the seeds shared a love for the wonder of the soil. Parables trap us. They bring up something we agree with on one level and combine it with something we normally don’t accept on another level. Once we acknowledge the connection, we’re forced to change our mind about that other thing. He uses images from our common experience whose truth is evident in order to give us some insight into a reality whose truth is not evident.
Jesus in the two seed-parables addresses the human tendency to believe that human fulfillment comes mostly through our plans and efforts. As a result, when things do not turn out as we have planned and worked to achieve, we become discouraged and lose hope. Jesus reminds us that the coming and growth of God’s reign is the work of God’s love. Its complete realization will be evident only when the Son of Man comes in glory. Our response to this truth about the reign of God is to pray for its coming on earth as it is in heaven. Further, it is to do our utmost to create the best environment for the growth of the kingdom.
The farmer works hard during the day, but he can't make the seed grow into a plant, and the plant produce fruit. Farmers usually don’t sit in their fields during the night with flashlights waiting for the seed they planted the day before to start growing. From past experience, they presume something’s happening underground. Eventually the seed will push its way out of the soil. Neither do we hesitate to plant small seeds when we’re anticipating a large bush or tree. The crop will come, the tree will grow. God causes the growth. In our modern terms, the farmer cultivates, but God causes the growth.
Jesus' point is that the Kingdomof Godis, like the plants, in God's hands. The workers in the Lord's fields must do their best to create the proper environment for growth, but God cause the growth. The parable comforts the people of the early Church in face of discouragement when their efforts don't seem to be getting them anywhere.
Man-made construction may move quickly, but living organisms seem slow and subtle. Love takes time to show and grow. In life, little acts count. In fact, that is what a life is all about, a long parade of moments that deceptively appear inconsequential. We ask ourselves: have we made progress? We are almost never aware of it. Only with effort and discipline do we become fully conscious. A daily examination of our awareness is encouraged. Examination even in preparation for periodic sacrament of reconciliation is very beneficial. Examination is to pay attention lovingly, gratefully.
It is difficult at times for Christians to maintain their hope in the coming of the Kingdom. The power of evil seems overwhelming, and the world presents itself as a formidable foe. The weapons of prayer and good works seem insignificant in a world of international corporations and nuclear weapons.
We wish to see objects grow in a flash. Yet, Christ is telling us that though you cannot see it, the mustard seed is maturing. It will become among the largest of all plants.
Everything must begin somewhere. No one emerged fully grown from his mother's wombs. If Christians could learn to bring together their modest contributions to the common good, can you imagine what a force for good we would be for those about us?
Paul assures us, that "we are full of confidence." What is the source of this confidence? It comes from having a God "who is our hope and our strength, who brings low the high tree and lifts high the lowly tree."
The mustard seed: In the Kingdom, one does not have to be president or king to make a difference; the smallest person is great and powerful. In the Kingdom, the smallest action has unlimited potential.
Pope John Paul II has said; "There is no justification for despair or pessimism or inertia. Though it be with sorrow, it must be said that just as one may sin through selfishness and the desire for excessive profit and power, one may also be found wanting with regard to the urgent needs of multitudes of human beings submerged in conditions of underdevelopment, through fear, indecision and, basically, through cowardice."
(Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987))
The call to patience and hope is more necessary than ever in my life. When I look at what I perceive to be the work of the Church in these parishes as a part of the Kingdom, I can easily be overwhelmed by an awareness of the Mustard Seed. We are small in many ways: I am ordained forty years and my energy is not the same as I experienced during the past years of health and wellbeing (Fr. Al is amazing for a man for a man ten years my senior). We are a small congregation of parishioners (many who have difficulty getting involved beyond mass attendance due to distance). We have little in financial resources. The humility of the seed is apparent. So all of these realities push us to listen well to this gospel and renew our hope.
Remember the advice of Winston Churchill, "The difficulty is not to be expected in the beginning but rather when one attempts to stay the course."
As St. Paul said: “I plant, Apollos waters, but God gives the growth.” Mother Theresa said, “God does not expect success, but faithfulness.”