The Mustard Seed

11th Sunday of Ordinary Time / Trinity 2.

Mark 4,26-34

In England the N.C.C. Mass booklet has Christ’s words that his kingdom is like a mustard seed, the least of the shrubs that becomes a tree and a home for many varieties of birds. We do not understand this image in the sense of Ernst Schumacher writing in 1973 that “Small is beautiful” of itself. He was writing about the abuse of resources in the world of politics and economics. But we remember Jesus is speaking about the crucial concept of “the Kingdom of God”.

Reading the parables we put ourselves in the situation of the first disciples, listening to the Lord explaining how his mission inevitably starts in a small and vulnerable way before it can grow. Jesus regularly used parables in his teaching; sometimes they are obscure riddles or proverbs but other times his analogies are clear and challenging taken from the natural world and daily life. The parable of the mustard seed is one of these, teaching the disciples that their mission inevitably starts in a small way and is vulnerable but growth is driven by God. Jesus uses parables as his teaching method introducing them with the formula, “the kingdom of heaven is like”; so that there is a deliberate emphasis that the first duty is to focus on the Godly way of thinking and living rather than the political.

Phillip Medhurst, FAL, via Wikimedia Commons

We must remember that the parables were collected by the evangelists to help the post Pentecost Church facing a new situation. Growth had already taken place in the years after Pentecost and in some cases was spreading like wildfire, but with new obstacles in the way. The tiny seed of Christian life started to grow and become the safe resting place for a great diversity of people of many languages and cultures. It was the Kingdom of God, the house with many rooms for all followers and the parables begin to be applied in new ways. This is exactly how St. Ambrose [397AD] uses the mustard seed image to say that the Holy Spirit is the seed in the soul which is a great power in the Christian world moving mountains. St John Chrysostom [407] also when he preaches about the mustard seed, says that although such a simple herb, which becomes a place for shelter and protection, mustard seeds are most potent when crushed as also the potency of Our Lord himself who became most strong when he too was crushed at the time of his passion but like the mustard seed releases the potency and his redeeming power.

Now we are in another age, beginning the season of Pentecost 2021. A time when Christian Churches face great antagonism amounting to a “Christo-phobia”. This may be one of the greatest crisis and challenges yet for Kingdom of Christ. Even the minds of the faith-community itself having lived for centuries in a more or less religious world, now inhabit anti religion and have already been infiltrated by a secular spirituality of individuality that is at odds with the transcendent spirituality of Christ. The Kingdom that Jesus spoke about was not a perfect paradise, a golden utopia above the clouds. The Kingdom of Heaven is made up of those who are working to mould the present life on the perfect model of Jesus Christ rather than personal happiness. To counter this we must plant again the seed of a deeper self-understanding of the Kingdom in which the image of the powerful mustard seed may again encourage us. We will have to become smaller too and more focused, yet determined to restore the meaning of the Kingdom while remembering a few weak fishermen once began to change the world by sowing the seeds divine power which must be sown again in the souls of humankind and nourished by the Holy Spirit begins to counteract the failures of our mission in the world.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

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