(See the readings for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 19.)
Good people are good to be with. It is surely a blessing. People who are generally good – striving to be good, speaking well of others, being kind and compassionate, forgiving and understanding, recognizing the needs of others around them, caring for the sick or the poor, seeking to live by the truth, giving thanks to God for his blessings, relying on his mercy – lift us up and help us to be good people as well.
Jesus offers us the parable of the mustard seed. He says the smallest of seeds, when taken and planted in the ground, grows to be the greatest of bushes where “birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.” The parable is familiar to most of us and is part of the Gospel passage for today’s liturgy.
When Jesus offers us the parable, he is associating the mustard seed with the kingdom of God. The seed is planted in our hearts and within the communion we share. When it is planted, and nourished it first sprouts then begins to grow. Another way of expressing the kingdom of God is “God’s vision for all creation, especially for humanity.” In other words, the kingdom is God’s plan. It encompasses all aspects of living and touches on the way we think, act, interact and choose. As beings who are alive, we change and develop throughout life, not only our bodies but our minds, personalities and souls. There is a dynamic activity of growth in our lives both as individuals and as a communion of faith.
The kingdom of God is planted by God the Father through his Son, Jesus. Jesus sows the seed of the kingdom as he gathers disciples to himself and shows them the way to live. When the seed is planted in the heart, something starts to happen. It grows. As we follow the Lord who is “the way, the truth and the life,” the kingdom begins to be manifest in our lives.
Perhaps the two greatest attributes of the kingdom are those of God Himself – love and mercy. What’s not said in the parable but implied is that the seed is nourished and cared for as it grows. Water is given in the form of rain, the soil provides nourishment. The sower watches over its growth and cares for the plant so that it will grow strong and vibrant. As we take the kingdom into our hearts, God provides the nourishment to help us grow through the presence of the Spirit.
In today’s second reading, taken from his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes that the Spirit dwelling within “comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” This Spirit of God resides in our hearts providing us with what we need to grow and develop.
Through the Spirit, the kingdom can be manifest in our lives. He helps us to develop into loving and merciful human beings, he helps us to recognize the movement of God in our lives, he helps us to hear his call, to respond in the direction of the good, the true and the beautiful. He helps us to be moved with compassion for those in need – whatever that need may be. He helps us to care for the sick, the lonely, the poor, the isolated. He helps us to forgive and to accept forgiveness when needed. He helps us to be thankful and to accept words and acts of appreciation. He helps us to pray, even when words escape us. As the Spirit works on us, day to day, something is happening within; we are growing and developing into the person and people whom God calls us to be and the kingdom becomes realized in us.
As human beings, we do not do this perfectly. Hence we rely on God’s mercy when we fail. It is through his mercy that we are healed and strengthened so that growth will continue. The first reading from the Book of Wisdom, along with the responsorial psalm, remind us of this. The Book of Wisdom notes that the source of our hope is that God permits repentance for our sins. Psalm 86 puts it this way: “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and fidelity, Turn toward me, and have pity on me; give your strength to your servant.” To which we reply: “Lord, you are good and forgiving.”
As the communion of faith, we have the Spirit of God dwelling among us building his kingdom. Accepting the Word into our hearts, opening our minds to the will of God, and allowing the Spirit to work on us drives the growth of the kingdom. As this happens, other people come to know of the kingdom. Most times this does not come in the form of words but through association and good actions. The interactions with each other in care, compassion, kindness, and mercy, in other words, love, lead others to find rest and comfort, support and courage, peace and stability just as the birds of the sky find a dwelling place in the mustard bush.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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