I came across a saying of Saint Francis Xavier recently that caught my attention,
“Be big in little things.”
It is one of those sayings that invites reflection.
One of the ways of hearing that saying is that we are to do the small, ordinary, tasks of life with a loving and generous heart. This was very much the spirituality of Saint Therese of Lisieux, her ‘little way’ as she referred to it. She died very young and lived most of her short life in a Carmelite convent. Yet, she did her tasks there with an extraordinary love for the Lord in her heart. She gave herself generously and lovingly to her little, daily, tasks. Even though her world was in some ways very small, her little way had a tremendous impact for good on generations of believers throughout the world.
Today’s gospel reading reminded me of that saying of Saint Francis Xavier, “Be big in small things.” Jesus speaks two parables that reveal something of the mystery of the kingdom of God. When we hear the term ‘kingdom of God’, we instinctively think of the ‘kingdom of heaven, life beyond this earthly life. Indeed, Jesus often speaks about entering the kingdom of God beyond this earthly life. Yet, for Jesus, the kingdom of God was also a present reality. As he began his public ministry, he declared, ‘the kingdom of God is at hand’. Jesus was declaring that the kingdom of God was coming into this earthly world in and through his ministry. The kingdom of God was present when Jesus healed the sick, forgave sinners, shared a table with the excluded, proclaimed the good news of God’s unconditional love for all, gathered a new kind of community about himself that would later become the church. Jesus intended that the kingdom of God would continue to come into our world through the community of believers that he began to gather during his earthly life. That is why Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘thy kingdom come’. We are asking God to help us to live in such a way that God’s kingdom will come into our world through us. The petition ‘thy kingdom come’ is followed immediately by the petition ‘thy will be done. Whenever, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we live as God wills, whenever we relate to one another in the same loving way that God relates to us, then the kingdom of God is present in our world through our lives.
What does Jesus mean then when he says that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed which at the time of its sowing is the smallest of all the seeds and, yet, once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all? He seems to be saying that ‘little things, as little as a mustard seed, have the potential to be a gateway through which the kingdom of God comes into our world. Jesus is suggesting that we can all sow little seeds of God’s kingdom. Just as the sowing of a small mustard seed grows into a large, vigorous, plant that spreads far and wide providing shelter for birds, so our own sowing of tiny sees of love and hope can have unforeseen effects for good. Faithful, every day, choices to scatter the seed of the Lord’s love unleashes a power that can transform the world. Jesus is encouraging us to appreciate the value of our own small gestures of generosity and loving-kindness. He often drew attention to the significance of small gestures, of the mustard seeds of love. He said on one occasion that if anyone gives a cup of cold water to a thirsty person they will not lose their reward.
On another occasion, he drew his disciples’ attention to a poor widow putting in two small copper coins into the Temple treasury. In the parable of the good Samaritan, the Samaritan traveller was making present the kingdom of God to the broken Jesus by the simple loving gestures of bandaging his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them, putting him on his animal, and bringing him to an inn, Jesus is assuring us in that parable that the kingdom of God is present in the good and loving choices we make, in our small acts of self-giving service of others.
What about the first parable in today’s gospel reading, often called the parable of the seed growing secretly? What is it saying about the presence of the kingdom of God in our world?
Jesus seems to be saying that God can be working quietly, mysteriously, and yet powerfully, at the heart of the familiar. The farmer sows the seed and then does nothing for months, and, yet, there is a wonderful process of growth going on all the time, until he is ready to reap the harvest. Jesus is saying that when we sow seeds of hope and love, more is always happening than we realize; God is at work there. The coming of God’s kingdom into the world is primarily God’s work. \
We have a role to play; we have to sow the seed. If we do that, if we are big in small things, God will exploit that opening in ways beyond all our imagining. God will be working away powerfully through our efforts, small as they may seem to us. Amen.
Fr. John Peter
May the souls of our departed parishioners rest in Peace.