THE VALUE OF SMALL BEGINNINGS
Ez 17:22-24; 2Cor 5:6-10; Mk 4:26-34
Today’s liturgy is talking about the small but mysterious ways in which God’s kingdom spreads. In the 1st Reading, Ezekiel prophesied that the Lord would take a tiny branch from a tree and turn it into a noble cedar. In this prophecy, the people of Israel recognized that growth is always in God’s hands. Israel, a tiny nation in exile at the time of this prophecy, would become the nation that the whole world would look to with respect. God would do more for them than they could imagine. Every kind of bird, all the nations, would live under the tree of Israel.
The two parables of today’s gospel teach us, “What the Kingdom of God is like.” They contain a couple of very important truths that are very liberating. In the first parable, the reign of God is like seeds that a man plants in the soil. It is not the man, however, but the soil that makes the seeds sprout and grow in a way the man does not understand. In the second comparison, the reign of God is like the smallest of all seeds. Yet, once it has completed its growth, it is so large that birds can build nests in its shade. From this gospel text, we can note certain issues:
1. TRUE SPIRITUAL GROWTH COMES FROM GOD AND NOT FROM
In the first parable, Jesus uses the illustration of a farmer. This farmer goes out into the field each year and plants his seed. He prepares the ground and tends the seed but he has no idea why or how the seed grows to produce a crop. The fertile soil and a healthy seed combine to do something that the mind does not understand. The crop seems to grow “by itself”, automatically. This is the way it is with God’s Kingdom. God’s spirit begins to work in a human heart, as sown at the time of our baptism; and it slowly draws the individual to God. As we expose ourselves to the truth we find ourselves being changed by it. Often we cannot see it. We do not cause growth. God causes it. It is all God’s grace! The wonder of growth belongs to the Lord.
Jesus reminds us that the Kingdom does not advance by the force of men, but by the power and grace of God. For instance, the Church lives on despite the persecutions from throughout her history, despite the internal dogmatic fights and debates of down the centuries, despite the corruption from within and outside, despite the clergy sex abuse scandal, despite the attacks on Christians by ISIS, and despite two thousand years of martyrdom aimed at destroying the faith. The Church still lives on, and grows. God gives the growth. He does wonders with our feeble efforts. He turns that which is insignificant into that which is substantial. There are a couple of implications from this parable.
a) The growth of the Kingdom does not depend on us. It does not depend on our ability to proclaim the gospel message. We are called to do our part by planting the seed. God is the one that makes it grow. St. Paul alludes to this when he says: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1Cor 3:6-7).
b) While applying our human techniques, we should not forget the aspect of PRAYER. There are many modern techniques to reach out to people, and to make things happen, but we should not forget to keep asking God to change human hearts and human lives. How much time do you spend praying for your friends and relatives who have no desire for the things of God? (Think of the example of the Mother of St. Augustine of Hippo who prayed patiently for the conversion of her son for over 30 years!) God can change hearts. And he has done it over and over, throughout our human history.
c) We should be patient. The farmer plants the seed and then he/she has to wait many months or years before the harvest. He/she must wait in the dry times and in the wet times. In spite of all the modern farming techniques, when all is said and done we must wait patiently for the harvest. All we need is to be faithful, and then relax and trust God’s ability.
2. THE QUALIFICATIONS OF A GOOD FARMER
In the first parable, Jesus further gives us certain credentials of a good farmer. Although the farmer cannot produce growth, there are some things that he/she can, and needs to, do in order to encourage growth. The farmer is not passive; he/she must be active. Like the farmer, there are things we must also do:
a) We must prepare the ground. We do this by building bridges with people. Christian people cannot merely gather around in their “holy clusters” and wait for God to change the world. We must prepare the soil by showing people the effect of the Kingdom of God in our lives: by our acts of kindness, our enduring love, the way we treat our enemies and by our involvement with those who hurt us. Jesus understood this: he healed people; he extended compassion. In this way, Jesus helped the people receive and believe the message of salvation. You and I can prepare the soil when we get out into the world and love as Jesus loved.
b) We need to plant the seed. The seed may automatically grow when it gets into the ground but it does have to get into the ground. It is God’s job to cause that message to take root and grow in a human life. But we should work diligently to plant the seed wherever we go. When there is an opening to share the good news, we should do so and then pray that God causes the seed to grow.
Furthermore, any good farmer knows that not all seeds are alike. If we want a good crop we must start with a good seed. This is also true as we share the gospel. We must make sure that we understand the gospel and that we can explain it to those who ask us. St. Peter says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
c) We can and must care for the growing seed. In order to make the seed grow healthily, we must eliminate the weeds of faulty understanding. In other words, we must help a new believer, or someone who is interested in the faith, to think clearly. We must defend against the parasites of false teaching. The best antidote to false teaching is solid instruction. We should be available to answer questions (or to find answers to questions). God brings the growth but he depends on us to plant and care for the crop.
3. THE VALUE OF SMALL BEGINNINGS
It is not the size of the seed counts but what happens when the seed is planted. In the second parable Jesus talks about the mustard seed. It is a small seed that results in a large tree. The tree grows quickly. It is an amazing thing to think that this little seed could eventually produce a tree that would allow birds to sit on its branches.
In talking about the seed being “SMALL”, Jesus was trying to draw a contrast between SMALL BEGINNINGS and SURPRISING RESULTS. It is not the size of the person, church, or community that matters. It is what God can do through a generous heart. Think about the “small seed” that Jesus started with. He had twelve common men who became his disciples. Who would have thought that God could get his message to the entire world through fishermen, tax-collectors and other such men? They were ordinary men, but when ordinary people put their faith in God, great things happen.
God is able to use the smallest seed, the most unlikely individual, to bring about an astounding harvest. Perhaps we feel that there is nothing we can do. You may feel that your contribution is unimportant. Do not look at your size, your talents, or your position. Look at the God, our Father. We should realize that God can use anybody to change the world. Maybe he will put you in the public eye. Maybe he will raise you up to testify of him. Or maybe he will use you quietly.
However, just as good things grow gradually, so do bad ones. It is said that bad habits and illnesses creep up on us slowly and in little steps. They follow a similar pattern with the great undertakings. They are like the kingdoms in history that have waged war against the church. But the church has seen them all off. The church will continue to see off the new empires that wage war against her. Someone has said that “One kingdom will last and that is the kingdom of God”.
4. WE MUST NOT BE DISCOURAGED BY SMALL BEGINNINGS
Sometimes, we are discouraged by the enormous nature of our daily challenges and tasks:
You may think the small class you teach is not worth your time;
You may think that your little financial donation during offertory cannot do much;
You may believe that your visits to your sick friend are not accomplishing anything for Jesus;
You may think that your faltering speech would not convince anyone of the truth of grace;
You may think that the low attendance at your meeting means you are failing;
You may think that your simple song is no big deal;
You may think that your limited knowledge of the things of God disqualifies you to share with others;
You may think that your faithful witness is falling on deaf ears;
But you fail to notice what God is going to do through your faithfulness! We do not know how many people are going to be impacted simply because we were faithful in the little things of life. We do not know who is watching or listening. We do not know what God is doing through the seed we plant. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as “just one person”.
Let us think of all the times that God used one person to change the world: Abraham, Moses, Mary the mother of Jesus, Paul of Tarsus, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, etc., and countless others along the way. We are one person in the hand of “ALMIGHTY GOD”! we must not sell ourselves cheap! (Remember the Hymn: “Hark the voice of Jesus calling” –verse 4: While the souls of men are dying, And the Master calls for you, Let none hear you idly saying, “There is nothing I can do!” Gladly take the task He gives you, Let His work your pleasure be; Answer quickly when He calleth, “Here am I, O Lord, send me.”)
5. SOME PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS
In the field of Management, people are encouraged to “THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX”. They encourage leaders to dare to see what is not easily seen and to look beyond what is obvious. They challenge us to see POSSIBILITIES rather than LIMITATIONS. They encourage us to look beyond the “WAY THINGS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN” and look for new methods and directions. In a sense, this is what Jesus is saying to us today:
He wants us to look at the Kingdom of God differently. Instead of bothering over how we can build the kingdom, he wants us to watch as he builds the Kingdom!
We need to STOP PUTTING OUR CONFIDENCE IN OUR STRENGTH AND ABILITY AND BEGIN TRUSTING HIS ABILITY. We need to stop trying to force things and let him work in the quiet of a heart.
We must stop excusing our responsibility and ignoring our opportunities because we are just a “little seed”. It would not be surprising if there are some persons here today who think that they are so insignificant, or so small, or so weak, or so bad, that God would never notice, care about, or use them. But God is seeing you. God loves you. And Christ died for you also!
In spite of your personal weaknesses, God knows your name. He knows your heart. He cares about your heartaches. And he wants to love you as his own. To the rest of the world we may be nobodies. But to God we are very valuable.
Indeed, this is a very liberating message to each one of us!
Today’s Gospel gives us the hope where there seem to none. Let us not be dismayed with our simple and humble beginnings, or give in to hopelessness when we encounter delays or setbacks of any kind. As the song says: “God will make a way; Where there seems to be no way; He works in ways we cannot see; He will make a way for me…” And yet another song says: “God will make all things beautiful in His time.” May we stand up and face life’s challenges with confidence in God’s constant presence and support for us!