The oak tree, publicdomainpictures.net
“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” Mark 4: 30-32
Well, I suspect not many of us know what a mustard bush looks like, let alone its seed, but we would probably know what great oaks from little acorns grow means. It is the same idea, a great result from the tiniest beginning. Just a few weeks ago, on Pentecost Sunday, we remembered that spectacular day when the entire Christian church was a group of terrified individuals crowded into a small room in Jerusalem, awaiting the fate that had befallen their leader. Then suddenly the Holy Spirit of God descended on them and they were transformed into lions, roaring their message to anyone who would listen, despite the consequences. From that tiny beginning, then, today’s world-wide Christian community is the consequence. A great oak – or mustard bush – indeed. How that transformation occurred is beyond human understanding; one moment cowering in fear of crucifixion, the next trumpeting the very same message that Jesus had taught them, which had led to his death. I think that is the meaning of the first parable in today’s gospel. The church grows despite the most grievous barriers and opposition in a way beyond our understanding, just as seeds sprout and grow in ways we do not necessarily understand. But we do know the courage the second reading talks of, the courage to do the right thing pleasing to the Lord, thereby building his church. But for today’s church, perhaps the first reading from the Book of Ezekiel is more appropriate.
In most of the wealthy countries of the world today, church attendance is in decline. The number of vocations to the priesthood is in crisis. Children of faithful church-goers seem to vanish once they have left the nest. It is a grim picture for the Christian faithful. It is, indeed, as if the Lord had cut off a tender shoot from the topmost branch of an old tree (which is left to wither and die) and replanted it somewhere it can grow, perhaps with difficulty (“on the mountain heights of Israel”) but, we are assured, will indeed bear fruit. That seems to be more like today’s church than the glory days of old, with packed churches and universal respect for the institution. Today is different and much more challenging. Ezekiel was talking about the Hebrew people exiled in Babylon who would eventually return to Jerusalem to rebuild their lives and traditions. Today we have to talk about rebuilding the true meaning of Christianity which simply put, is love of God, neighbor and self, in a social context with God as the central focus, namely the Mass, which is the community at prayer with Jesus present. So, as ever, it is by example that we Christians will attract others. If we live lives which are honest, generous, open, forgiving, happy, we will attract others to the source of such qualities. The one little seed, for example, could well be an unexpected act of kindness to someone who does not expect it. That may well be the acorn which will one day become a magnificent life of Christian love; who knows? One thing is certain though: without the acorn nothing will grow at all. So, like the sower in another of Jesus’ parables, we must scatter seeds of kindness and concern among those we know, possibly even dislike, trusting that such acts might well lead to great things. That, I believe, is the central message of today’s readings. Easily put, challenging to deliver. But it has always been so, and here we are still, 2000 years later. With Jesus’ promise to be with us always, then we should have every hope of success and fulfillment.
The black mustard seed bush, benjaminharrismusings.blogspot.com