Bur Oak Tree, The Tree Center Plant Supply Company.

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Jesus said to the crowds: “This is how it is with the kingdom of God; 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.   Mark 4:26-27.

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“Great oaks from little acorns grow”. I suspect more of us will be more familiar with that truism than the details of mustard plants, the subject of Jesus’ parable today. But the sense of this expression is the same. From the smallest beginnings, great things can result; yes, even that magnificent tree pictured above began life as a little acorn.  Jesus might even be referring to his own ministry here. Here he was, one small voice amid thousands, with a message he knew not many people would want to hear (as he did not summon everyone to fight against the occupying Romans), so his word was the tiniest mustard seed, or the little acorn, yet it was to grow out of all proportion in the centuries following. How it manages to do this, Jesus says, is a mystery to the farmer who plants it, but it takes root and begins to grow nonetheless. Jesus is talking about God’s kingdom, and Jesus is the herald announcing it. The first reading talks of the majestic cedar tree, forever linked to the image of Lebanon (it even appears on the present unhappy country’s flag). God says it will be planted in Israel and become the center and focus of all around it, the abode of the One True God, strong and true. Then there is the second reading today. That tells us we walk, in a sense, in two ways. One, “in the body” as it says, hence not necessarily with God, then we walk “by faith” which should be with God. But either way we have to try and walk with God, doing God’s will, not ours, so that we can stand before God when our time comes, and “receive recompense” for our behavior. In other words, have we made of our lives the great oak or cedar, which can stand tall in judgment, or not? 

One little element in the mustard seed parable is the mention of the birds of the sky (who) can dwell in its shade. This might well be a veiled reference to the Kingdom of God being open to all people, not just the Chosen People. To be open about that would have been risky at that stage of Jesus’ mission. Remember that the most vulnerable time of a seedling’s life is that first emergence in the world, a few leaves and nothing more. Do you recall one of the final scenes in The Martian movie where our hero, safely home at last, seated on a park bench, looks down and sees a tiny plant pushing up through a crack in the paving, to be greeted by our hero. He knew from his experience just how wonderful, precious and, indeed, sacred that was.

young plant growing in garden with sunlight
The Seedling, iStock by Getty Images

Thus is our own seedling of God’s presence in our lives. Precious, sacred and utterly vulnerable to the wiles and destructive forces of the world around us, just as the wasteland of Mars in the movie was to growing anything at all. The potential of such a tiny beginning is, however, enormous, eternal even. Only with us taking care of our faith in God can it grow to become our solid support, shelter and strength through life. Then we too can take refuge in its branches, secure from the dangers of the world and full of hope for a glorious life to come. 


The Cedar Flag of Lebanon, The Flag Shop.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

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