It is like a mustard seed . . . (Mk 4: 31)
The Word for Sunday: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/061712.cfm
“Slow but sure,” so said the Tortoise to the Hare. We likely remember the moral of the famed Aesop fable of the Tortoise and the Hare (rabbit). Old “speedy Gonzales,” as we may refer to the rabbit, thought he had something up on the ever slow, slothful, unexciting movement of the turtle. Challenging the tortoise to a race seemed like a no brainer to the clever rabbit. Speed is what it’s all about after all. So, the rabbit took his time as the turtle slowly plodded forward unconcerned about the rabbit’s challenge. “Haste makes waste,” may have thought the turtle.
As the rabbit rested from his marathon he took a nap while the turtle moved ever forward step by step, side to side as he both pulled and waddled his large shell. Who would have ever placed a bet on such a slow creature? But, to the astonishment of the rabbit, this seeming “push over” of a challenger won the race! It’s a great story about the value of patience and careful planning. In this age of high-speed everything there may be a good lesson here. Our readings this Sunday take a decidedly personal turn and offer us a similar reflection on spiritual growth and the life of God’s grace.
In the second reading (2 Cor 5: 6-10) St. Paul comments, “. . . we walk by faith, not by sight . . .” While that sounds quite beautiful, and of course is true, to “walk by faith” often implies a walk in the darkness or certainly a walk with no clear direction. How uncertain and uncomfortable that may seem. We want to turn on the GPS, look at an old fashioned road map, check the mileage, plan the reservations, calculate the distance, check the passports, call the airlines or whatever other planning goes in to an enjoyable trip. Most of us are not comfortable with the uncertain. Yet, to live “by faith” in the end may also be stated as to live by trust. Trust takes time to build.
In the Gospel (Mk 4: 26 -34) Jesus speaks of a slow, deliberate, mysterious power at work that is beyond our understanding. This constant, slow like the tortoise, the careful power of God’s grace is at work both in the world around us and even more significantly in our daily spiritual life.
Like the steady pace of the tortoise, we keep our eyes fixed on our final goal, who is Christ Jesus himself and a life of holiness. But, what are we trying to “achieve” in our spiritual life? To become holy? Of course but is that up to us or is it God’s work? If I just say my daily Rosary, attend Mass, pray the novenas, and assist my neighbor won’t that make me holy? Well, it may make me tired or discouraged because I care more about my own efforts than to surrender my will to God’s.
It seems the parable of the farmer and the mustard seed implies that seeds of faith sown in us through our sacramental life and our life of prayer– baptism, confirmation, eucharist, reconciliation – are the seeds of God’s grace which grows within us. Spiritual exercises are valuable, of course, but holiness is God’s work. Like the farmer, we tend the soil, “scatter the seed,” water the ground but God gives the growth.
Someone once asked the wise St. Teresa of Avila, a Doctor of the Church, how we would know when we are growing in virtue. What would be the signs that we are increasing in holiness?
Teresa said, “When you see the flowers in the garden growing.” In other words, when we see ourselves increasing in the virtues of faith, charity, patience, humility, and other Christ-like virtues, we know this mysterious grace of God is at work in us.
Better yet, rather than try to evaluate ourselves in this regard, which is always a temptation to pride for who among us would give ourselves an “F” or a “D” in such things? But, we may hear comments coming to us from others who view our behavior, our words, our insights, our lifestyle as that marked by virtue and seeming holiness. They see the mustard tree and the stalks of wheat.
The Kingdom of God is ultimately the person of Jesus Christ himself who calls us to discipleship. If we sincerely seek to live his Gospel we live as members of his Kingdom. These parables are lessons on faith and its slow, deliberate growth that in the end calls all of us to “walk by faith, not by sight.” To walk in trust and be people of peace, reconciliation, humility, patient endurance, charity, all of which is a reflection of the King himself, demands a lesson from the tortoise. Slow, thoughtful, keep moving, don’t give up, and believe that with the power of God’s grace, we will finish the race.