As With the Apostles, Jesus Sends Us All on Mission

Saints Peter and Paul: Models for Christian Life

Sharing In The Life God Offers

Facing the Storms of Life with Faith 

Jesus Saves

The Eucharist Strengthens Us to Live the Life of Love

Msgr. Joseph Prior

Spring is a time for planting. Every year we have a small garden out back where we grow tomatoes, peppers, and some herbs. The tomatoes and peppers are plants, but the herbs are grown from seed. The basil seeds are incredibly small. Every time I plant them, I think of Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed. It is amazing to watch the plants grow. The seeds can take any length of time to sprout. When they do, the rich brown soil is marked with specks of green, almost indiscernible. As the days turn into weeks, plants start to take shape with brilliant green stems and leaves. After a couple months, you can hardly see the soil there is so much growth.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus uses two agricultural images for the Kingdom of God. The first involves a farmer scattering seed, the second is the familiar “mustard seed.” In both cases, these seeds are sown then slowly but surely growth occurs.

Day-by-day one might not notice the change that takes place but over time something seemingly dead teems forth with abundance of life. As Jesus says, the smallest of seeds becomes the largest of plants.

In the first reading, Ezekiel uses the image of a shoot taken off the top of a cedar tree. The shoot is planted on a mountain height and then becomes a “majestic cedar.” Today we might think of the sequoias of California which are of the same family as cedars. The point Ezekiel is making is the same as Jesus, by God’s design and care, something incredibly small can become amazingly large. The growth occurring over a period of time is almost undetectable but very much real and marvelous.

Ezekial uses the image to represent God’s plans for Israel. He writes during the Babylonian Exile. The nation has been defeated by Babylon, the people exiled, the monarchy by this point is destroyed. The cedar may well be an image of a future king, taken from the line of David. One day the Kingdom will flourish and “birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it.” Jesus will be that shoot, the new King. In Him, all people will be welcomed and will rest under His compassionate care.

Jesus applies his images to the Kingdom of God. God’s plan for mankind is made visible in Jesus, His Son. In one sense the seed is planted within us by Christ. This finds resonance with the sacramental life of the Church. Nourished and cared for properly the new life grows and can bear an abundance of fruit. The same is true in the communal sense, the Body of Christ, the Church, is established by Christ Jesus with a small band of disciples but grows into countless members over time (for example there are over one billion Catholics alive today and over two billion counting all the various denominations and Eastern Churches). Gathered as one, united in communion with Him and each other, God accomplishes great good – an abundance of life-giving love, and mercy – are shared. The fruits of this love are wide and varied. Care for the sick and isolated, feeding of the hungry, clothing of the naked, welcoming the stranger and foreigner, consoling the grieving, supporting the downtrodden, building fellowship and authentic friendship, teaching the unlearned, healing the sick are just a few examples.

The mystery of the growth that occurs is centered on God’s loving care. He is the one who causes the growth. It is by His design. So long as we have an open heart and willing spirit, He will accomplish great good from each one of us and all of us together. The Kingdom established by Christ is here. The more we allow Him to work in us, the more visible that Kingdom becomes. We may not see the growth day by day but as time goes on, in our own lives and in the life of the communion, its effects.

One of the images that comes to mind for me when reading Saint Paul’s passage from Second Corinthians which serves as the second reading for today’s liturgy is the journey of life. The goal is clear – life with the Lord. While we live “in the body” we “walk by faith, not by sight.” Our faith moves us forward to enjoy the life we live in this world, seeking to please God in everything we do. Our faith gives us the courage to face the challenges of life in whatever form they come and to find healing for our wounds. Our faith gives us the motivation to love, to forgive, to care, to engage, to offer assistance, to thank, and to live. The Kingdom of God is present and growing in all aspects of our lives. As we move forward on the journey, we do so in unshakeable hope, that one day we will see, face to face, He who is our King.

God is good to us. He gives us life and shows us the way to life. He provides for growth so that the abundance of the life he offers us may be had – both in this world and in the world to come.

He has planted the seed and it has grown large and fruitful.

His life-giving love is amazing. And so, in the words of the psalmist, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praise to your name, Most High. To proclaim your kindness at dawn and your faithfulness throughout the night.”

***

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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