“The kingdom of God is a mustard seed
growing into the biggest shrub of all”
“A Small Seed”
by Val Collier SDB
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a little story/parable to explain what the Kingdom of God is like. He says, It is like the seed a farmer sows in a field. Once planted, it grows of its own accord day and night. The seeds famers sow are very small yet they grow and grow and produce a big harvest.
To emphasise his point he goes on to say “The Kingdom God is like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds.” It is very small at the start of its life in the ground, but then it grows into the biggest shrub of all and puts out big branches.
In this Parable, what Jesus is talking to us about, is God’s purpose for humanity, the saving plan He has for each one of us. He is the sower of a special seed in the lives of each one of us. And that seed is the saving grace He offers us in the Sacrament of Baptism.
The image of a tiny little seed which grows day and night into something large captures the generous and lavish work of God’s grace in our lives and in our world. Without God we are nothing. But God’s son, Jesus through the gift of Baptism offers us a gateway into the Christian life and the grace we receive in Baptism is always at work in us night and day whether we are asleep or awake.
It is through the grace of Baptism that our Christian vocation is born. It is the greatest grace of our lives. Because when we are baptised, our sins are forgiven; we are born again and we receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit. We become part of God’s Kingdom. We are truly children of God.
St. Gregory of Nazianzus said of Baptism; “Baptism is God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift. We call it a gift, grace, anointing, the garment of immortality, a most precious gift.”
Pope John Paul II, now a canonized saint of the Church, was once asked if becoming Pope was the most important and special day of his life. He replied that it was not as important and as special as the day of his baptism. I think that is a very interesting statement and quite revealing.
Lord Jesus we give you thanks and praise for the gift of Baptism through which we have entered the Kingdom of God.
Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB
1st Reading – Ezekiel 17:22-24
The Lord says this:
‘From the top of the cedar,
from the highest branch I will take a shoot
and plant it myself on a very high mountain.
I will plant it on the high mountain of Israel.
It will sprout branches and bear fruit,
and become a noble cedar.
Every kind of bird will live beneath it,
every winged creature rest in the shade of its branches.
And every tree of the field will learn that I, the Lord, am the one
who stunts tall trees and makes the low ones grow,
who withers green trees and makes the withered green.
I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do it.’
Today we meet Israel as the world’s tree caught in a web of humiliation and glory. The imagery becomes clearer when we see the link between Ezekiel’s cedar and the mustard bush in the gospel. The tender shoot from the top of the cedar tree represents a descendant of the last king from the line of David before the exile. The withered tree made green represents the promise of restoration in the coming Messiah. The small becomes the great. Compare this image to the beasts and birds who find a home in the mustard bush, representing all the peoples of the earth: the Church as God’s kingdom, the source of our hope. Can you discern the call to the Church to be small, to be a humble presence? How can we help that to happen?
LORD, Adonai, plant a tender shoot of renewed faith in my heart today. Plant a green shoot of faith in the heart of our families and our Church. Let it grow tall and strong, full of fresh green leaves, full of spiritual fruit for the nation. You have brought low the proud tree. Now heal the wounded tree. Let it bloom afresh with bright fruits of true humility and wisdom. Where faith has withered let there be life. May new life blossom in praise and glory! Amen.
Psalm 92 is a Sabbath Psalm sung during the main Temple services on Saturday. It is a psalm of thanksgiving, especially for redemption from enemies. Notice how the image of the cedar tree, planted and flourishing in the courts of God, comes to the fore. We are meant to be like the Lebanon cedar, always green, fruitful, and flourishing; always ready to offer living worship in God’s vibrant creation.
LORD, Adonai, it is good to give thanks to you, to praise the wonder of your name all our days. How kind you are, how merciful and true! May we flourish in your courts like the ancient cedars of Lebanon! May we bear fruit in the Spirit all our days! May we be ever ready to witness to your justice and love! May we sing new songs to you in joy! May we honour your glorious name in word and in deed forever! Amen.
2nd Reading – 2 Corinthians 5:6-10
We are always full of confidence when we remember that to live in the body means to be exiled from the Lord, going as we do by faith and not by sight – we are full of confidence, I say, and actually want to be exiled from the body and make our home with the Lord. Whether we are living in the body or exiled from it, we are intent on pleasing him. For all the truth about us will be brought out in the law court of Christ, and each of us will get what he deserves for the things he did in the body, good or bad.
The second reading offers us a message of confident reassurance midst the tangible threats, difficulties and challenges of life. This is so because we look forward to a different kind of existence signed by the Lord’s everlasting presence and made possible by faith. In the power of the Spirit we walk by faith not by sight and so are ready to give an account of our actions before the judgment seat of Christ, a seat full of the fragrance of divine mercy. Is our faith greater than our fear?
Lord Jesus, pour out your Spirit that we may walk by faith not by sight. Wrap us in the courage of the true disciple! Teach us how to make our spiritual home in you, in your living word! Fill us with spiritual confidence and assurance that we may live for you in all our ways! Liberate us from fear. And when we stand at last before your judgment seat bathe us in your everlasting mercy and glory. Amen.
Gospel Reading – Mark 4:26-34
Jesus said to the crowds: ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man throws seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, he loses no time: he starts to reap because the harvest has come.’
He also said, ‘What can we say the kingdom of God is like? What parable can we find for it? It is like a mustard seed which at the time of its sowing in the soil is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.’
Using many parables like these, he spoke the word to them, so far as they were capable of understanding it. He would not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything to his disciples when they were alone.
Mark teaches us about the kingdom by telling us two parables about seed. Parables are not easily understood, especially by those who have no particular attachment to Jesus. Parables are measures of our relationship with him. What, then is the seed growing secretly? The kingdom of God grows because of God, not because of us or our understanding. How alert are we to the living presence of the Spirit hidden in the depths of our being? The mustard seed holds before us the reality of small beginnings and God’s mysterious presence even in something resembling a weed, in something that grows like wildfire. The mustard seed encourages us to trust God who is there at the beginning and there at the end. Are we ready to take heart and trust God, to let the Spirit grow at the core of our being, to trust God’s glorious Oneness?
Lord Jesus, thank you for teaching us about the kingdom. Thank you for sharing its wisdom with us. Let the seed of your word grow strong within us! Let it yield fruit, ripe for a bountiful harvest of spirit. Transform our inner lives. Grow within our hearts and minds. Overcome our resistances and hesitations. Let the mustard seed of your presence spread like wildfire into every nook and cranny of our lives and relationships, offering hospitality to all that is. Draw us ever more fully into your glorious Oneness. Now and for ever. Amen.
Preaching the Kingdom of God was Jesus’ principal occupation during his public ministry, and his most constant preoccupation. Normally Jesus preferred to speak about God in parables, short stories that are familiar to us nowadays. Jesus made use of them to tell us what God is like, and how he acts in his dealings with us. To get to know Jesus intimately, and to discover what he thought about God and his kingdom, we need to go back and listen again to the parables, as if we were hearing them for the first time. To do this we have to make a real effort. If we allow ourselves to be surprised by some little detail, or pay attention to a hint that may be given, we will marvel at the way God acts towards us, and the love he has for us in his heart. In fact, the parables describe for us the God in whom Jesus believed and whom he preached – a God so close to life and the way we live that, for Jesus, speaking about life was speaking about God.
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
Jesus went back to the lakeside, the scene of many important missionary decisions. It was the place he had chosen for the call of his first disciples (Mk 1, 16-20; 2, 13). It was there, too, with a boat as his pulpit, that he taught the crowds (Mk 3, 7-9). Mark does not dedicate much space in his gospel to the teaching of Jesus (Mk 7, 1-23; 13, 1-37), but he presents the kingdom and some of its fundamental laws, with images contained in parables (Mk 4, 1-34). This is a faithful portrayal of the typical preaching of Jesus who habitually spoke about God in terms taken from daily life. This way of speaking about God was not just a pedagogical device, nor a way of drawing close to his listeners and helping them to understand. It came from his own personal faith, lived in the experience of Israel. Life itself is a word of God. Listening to life is a way of letting God speak. The parables reveal God, because everyday life is the place where God acts and an example of how he acts.
Jesus was aware that a few of his audience had already decided to follow him (Mk 1, 16-20; 2, 13-17) but many were indifferent and even opposed to his teaching (Mk 2,1-12; 3,1-6.22-30). He was an experienced evangeliser. The hope and optimism his words induced were not the fruit of his imagination, nor proof of his cleverness. He has already tasted failure and opposition, but he continues to trust in the success of his work of evangelisation. The reason for his optimism is to be found, not in the fruit of his labours, but in his own certainty that the gospel, if it is listened to and accepted, always produces fruit. Jesus has already acknowledged as his intimate friends those around him who listen to his words and do the will of God (Mk 3, 31-35). It is not enough, then, to be near him and to listen attentively. They must put his teaching into practice.
It is important to note that, after stating very clearly the requirement that they are to do his will, he now speaks about God and his kingdom cryptically, in parables, to anyone who wants to listen, (Mk 4, 2. 34). It is important for him that people pay attention to his message, so he does not speak clearly to all. Jesus preaches to all the people at the lakeside (Mk 4, 1-9), but the explanation is given only to those who have decided to follow him (Mk 4, 10-12). It is not by mere chance that he speaks of the kingdom in parables. He has a definite reason (Mk 4, 10-12). It is not easy to understand what he is saying, just as it is not easy to put it into practice (Mk 4, 12). He does not speak with the same openness to all, because not all have been given the grace to enter the mystery of God. More will be asked of those who receive a clearer teaching in private (Mk 4, 10-25.33-34). The more clearly the kingdom is presented, the greater the understanding and commitment it demands.
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
Right from the beginning of his ministry, Jesus met with failure in his preaching. It is quite likely that these two parables are a first attempt by Jesus to respond to this failure. They offer evidence of his faith in the hidden creative power of the kingdom. Like the farmer sowing seed, Jesus believed that the word he was sowing would grow, even though he did not know how. He knew beyond doubt that God would make the seed sprout, slowly but surely, to produce his will in the world. The life-force of the seed is powerful enough to recover from its apparent destruction. The smallest of seeds carries within it a tree that will offer shelter to all the birds of the air. Both images illustrate the nature of the kingdom of God, and testify to the preacher’s personal conviction. If we understand that what is happening is a miracle of God, then our daily life becomes a miracle. If we see things with the eyes of Jesus, we will know that God is never far away.
This is why Jesus could speak about the kingdom with stories from everyday life, as in today’s gospel passage. The seed which is sown germinates and grows until the time of harvest, without any effort on the part of the sower. Jesus saw in this an analogy with the kingdom of God. Although the kingdom was not yet visible, Jesus could be sure that it was working away quietly. God’s activity does not cease, even if we stop paying attention to it, The God whom Jesus preached and whom we believe in, is a God who continues to live and work in the world. His action is sometimes invisible and unknown but is always effective, just like the seed that germinates and continues to grow, though we do not know how. He is a God whom we know to be present, not because we have seen him personally, but because his works are always increasing. The sower knows that the seed will produce fruit, whether he sleeps or stays awake, though he does not know how or why. In the same way, the Christian knows that God is building his kingdom in this world, imperceptibly but inexorably, despite the opposition of his enemies and the sins of his friends. The earth goes on producing fruit by itself, as Jesus says. God never ceases to give life to the world.
The certitude that Jesus had should produce certainty in us. He was sure of having God in his life, just as the sower was sure of having the seed in his field. And he depended on the power and efficacy of the seed. With this simple image, Jesus encourages us to put our trust in God, despite any doubts or lack of evidence. We cannot see God but we know that he is there. We can be sure of his presence even though he remains invisible. We can count on him, even though we cannot touch him with our hands. We know that he is alive and active in our world and in our hearts, without seeing him and without experiencing him in any way. It is enough that we have faith the size of a mustard seed! If we had a bit more faith, then we ourselves would be the miracle. The change that would take place in us would be greater and more wonderful even than the transformation of a small seed into a large shrub.
This parable of Jesus reveals one of the laws of nature and of faith. In the smallest and most ordinary things, in things that happen and pass unnoticed, the hidden God is at work. If we are unable to intuit his presence, it does not mean that he is not there! We see only what we want to see. If we allowed ourselves to marvel at the ordinary little things that happen around us and in us, then surely we would feel the presence of God. It is only because we have not enough faith to discover his presence, that we do not experience wonder and surprise at his presence. He is closer to us than our most intimate thoughts and desires.
If we believe in this hidden but active God, we find the peace that only God can give, an inner peace that no one can take from us. That inner peace becomes so evident that people who do not share our faith and the security it brings, are envious of us. The peace of those who believe in the God of Jesus is not a product of financial security, nor of compromise. It comes, rather, from the certainty that God is with us, as long as we live and as long we suffer. Anyone who is sure of God’s presence in his life and in the world, does not lose interest in life or in the world. That would mean losing interest in God who is present in the world. The Christian who seeks to preserve his faith by fleeing from the world because he thinks it is not good, or opting out of society because it seems to be hostile, is losing faith in the God of Jesus. For this very reason, he will not be able to live at peace with himself or with the world.
However, the believer knows, like Jesus, that God’s way of acting is similar to that of the seed buried in the ground. Like the sower, he has patience enough to wait for an abundant harvest. Think of what we deprive ourselves of when our faith is not of the kind that Jesus wants to inculcate in us! We fail to see the fruits of God’s work, in us and in others, because we do not wait in hope for the right moment to come. Anyone who reaps before time has no right to complain if the harvest is small. The God of Jesus is a God who acts in our world like the seed buried in the field. He allows us to live in hope, without the daily worry that robs us of sleep. He does not feel the need to enjoy the fruits of his labour today, but is willing to wait in hope for the day of the harvest. “In vain is your earlier rising and your going later to rest … [God] pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber.” Those who pray know this to be true.
People who allow themselves to be convinced by Jesus and his preaching about the Kingdom, find inner peace in the midst of tribulation. They find joy in life even when death threatens. They are able to wait for the good they cannot yet see, and they trust that the evil they suffer will one day be overcome. We are free from all worry when we know that we are the object of God’s attention, and that he is working away silently and secretly behind the evils that oppress us, and in the people around us. Our only concern is to have faith and trust, cost what it may. If God is already at work, then the world must become a better place since it is the object of his attention. We can never lose hope when we know from the teaching of Jesus that we are God’s field, the field that he himself cultivates and cares for.
Today’s believers should not lose hope or be discouraged by the problems of society, nor should we be like those who have given up hope of a better world. We know that God is at work. We can be his co-workers, sharing his hopes and his fatigue, while we work for a better world. Working shoulder to shoulder with God – this in itself is our reward, the best possible recompense. Could we wish for anything better?