Jun 15, 2024

11th Sunday in Ordinary time: Patience pays off


"The kingdom of God . . . it is like a mustard seed"

Mark 4: 26-34

The Word: https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/061624.cfm

O God, who in the offerings presented here

provide for the twofold needs of human nature, 

nourishing us with food

and renewing us with your Sacrament,

grant, we pray,

that the sustenance they provide

may not fail us in body or in spirit.

Through Christ our Lord.

(Prayer over the Offerings)

What might St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Calcutta, Bill Gates, Walt Disney, Starbucks, Amazon, or any marriage have in common?  On the surface, there essentially seems to be very little.  I’m quite sure that coffee giant Starbucks does not feel any affiliation to Francis of Assisi.

Yet, in one way, they all have one thing in common.  In fact, Jesus implies the same in the parables we hear this Sunday from Marks Gospel: they all started with something very small and from that small idea or gathering around them, something very large and significant took place. 

Recently, Pope Francis commented on the length of priest’s homilies.  He advised that they be no longer than 8 minutes to avoid people falling asleep.  While I understand the importance of brevity and a clear message, I’m not sure about the falling asleep part. Like a tiny mustard seed, a brief homily may grow into something longer, extending its branches.  While the homily may be short, relatively speaking, the core message should indeed reach beyond the time given.   

Jesus implies in the parables, especially his familiar one about the mustard seed, when considering the work of God in our lives, the movement and effect of his grace may indeed appear slow and mysterious.

So, this weekend our scriptures bring us to reflect on how all things, despite our inherent need to control everything, is fundamentally the work of God which cannot be contained and will push forward of its own power to fulfill God’s will and order of things.

What better imagery could Jesus use than that of nature, so much a part of ancient life. In fact, our Lord uses images of nature and agriculture so often we may want to refer to him by a new title as “Jesus the farmer.”

So, the “kingdom of God” is like one who goes through the natural process of daily life, unawares of growth around him, but nonetheless that transformation follows its own mysterious process silently but inevitably. Jesus reminds his disciples to be aware of such growth as ultimately to be of God’s design. Here we speak of God’s mysterious grace in us, our potential for growth in our personal faith.

So, maybe the question for us is the nature of the kingdom of God.  Jesus spoke of this many times in comparisons of what that kingdom is like.  His kingdom here does not refer so much to a future life; what heaven might be like.  But rather, Jesus implies that his kingdom will grow here; it is something of this life and a foreshadow of its fulfillment in glory as God establishes a new way of being for humanity. Those who follow that new Way are members of his kingdom.  We pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

We often say that Jesus began with only twelve but today the Christian Catholic faith has blossomed around the world to include millions of believers, about 1.5 billion to be exact, who profess the Catholic faith united in Christ.  Yet, rather than use an image of an oak tree or cedar, tall strong and portraying the image of strength, Jesus uses a tiny seed and a bush.  Anyone of us might want to compare our work to something which gives the image of strength or success.  So, our Lord seems to be saying something less obvious but more significant.

As he compares the kingdom of God to a small, tiny seed and a large bush from that seed, it seems he might imply that God’s work in our life is more ordinary than we realize.  We want the big drama, the quick answer, and the flashy miracles.  Yet, if we reflect on God’s work, we see that his will is carried out in ordinary ways, right before us.

Think of simple, saintly quiet people who do great things with their lives in ordinary ways.  A kind gesture, faithfulness in marriage under challenging conditions as each spouse grows older, a single parent who make great sacrifices for their children, one who cares for the infirmed elderly with dignified compassion or a generous donor who seeks no praise or recognition but gives for the common good of all.  We might have the examples in our own families, parishes, schools, or institutions and not even notice them.  One who prays and seeks the path of holiness is not often noticed but we see it in their kindness and gentleness. Those who love and serve unselfishly after Christ's example are members of the kingdom of God. 

This is the growth that Jesus refers to and as each “seed” is planted it exponentially brings about a great good.  So, it seems the adage: “Look around you” to see God at work and his grace fulfilling his will.

Jesus chose common bread and wine; how more ordinary and frankly how uninteresting could that be, to be transformed into his own body and blood for our nourishment and transformation.  That bread of life, the lord’s supper, becomes the source and summit of the Christian life. From the ordinary wheat that produces the bread we receive life that sustains us to eternity.

Once a journalist observed that Mother Teresa could never be successful in meeting the needs of all the dying on the streets of Calcutta.  Her response simply said: “I am not called to be successful; I am called to be faithful.”  We sow seeds but God grows them.

In the end, how do we know this to be true?  How do we know that the slow and patient waiting is worth what God has promised?  St Paul tells us in the second reading today: ". . . we walk by faith and not by sight."