Small Starts

It is timely that as we re-enter into the Ordinary of the Year, our gospel reading presents the two parables of Mark on the kingdom of God. The first tells of the sower who scatters seeds which grow by themselves until they mature and bear bountiful harvest. The second is about the mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds which becomes the largest of plants. Both parables illustrate how the kingdom of God works in our ordinary life.

The story of the sower reminds us that the kingdom of God is God’s, not ours. He provides the seed and sustains its growth. As the sower sleeps and rises night and day, the seed grows without his knowing how. And so it is with life. The parable thus invites us to entrust ourselves to the Lord of life. “All shall be well.” (Julian of Norwich)

Growth is slow and imperceptible, and often we do not have the patience to wait. We are used to instant coffee, fast food, express lane… We want quick results and instant gratification.

One morning, Zorba, the Greek, chanced upon a cocoon and witnessed how the butterfly was struggling to get out of its case. Intending to help hasten its liberation, Zorba leaned to warm it with his breath. Eventually, the young butterfly came out, landed on his palm, shook itself momentarily to unfold its crumpled wings, and died. Zorba suddenly felt that the little body lying in his hand was the greatest weight on his conscience.

God has his own time. And “in his time, he makes all things beautiful…”

The parable of the mustard seed shows the contrast between the tiny beginnings of the kingdom and its immensity and greatness in the end. Just as the tiny mustard seed grows vigorously to become a tree where birds take refuge in its shade, the kingdom of God starts small and expands to embrace every people and nation.

The kingdom of God is “a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” (Preface of Christ the King) Grand as it is, it has its humble beginning in the human heart. “The kingdom of God is within you.” (Lk 17:21)

The kingdom of God starts small, and it starts with us. Mother Teresa tells us, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family,” And so it is with world peace. “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

In today’s parables we see two contrasting features of the kingdom of God: greatness and littleness. God’s kingdom is grand for he desires nothing less than the best for the world and for us. The images of the heavy harvest and the full grown mustard tree with branches enough to host the birds of the sky speak of such grandeur. At the same time, the parables also tell us that God accomplishes his great plan slowly and silently, with no fuss and fanfare.

This is the same dynamic we experience in our heart. We are naturally ambitious. After all, it was God himself who created our hearts for the infinite. The paradox is that our lofty quest is attainable only by way of humility.

St. Therese of Lisieux was admittedly ambitious. She wrote in her autobiography that she wanted to be a warrior, a priest, an apostle, a doctor of the Church, a martyr, a crusader… she wanted to be a great saint and the greatest lover of God. But she also knew that with all her grandiose intentions, she was little and incapable of doing anything great. She then realized that only God could bring her to the heights of holiness if she would only put herself totally in his arms. Thus, she discovered her Little Way to sanctity and perfection, which is the way of humility and total trust in God.

St. John of the Cross goes even farther. Beyond the Little Way, he recommends the way of nothingness. He defines God as an all-bestowing God who desires to give himself total to us: body, blood, soul, divinity and power. For God to do so, he needs a space in our heart. A heart totally empty of self and given in complete surrender. Thus, St John of the Cross speaks of becoming nada, nada, nada as a necessary prerequisite to union with God.

The grandeur of the kingdom is visible in the saints. The humbler the saint, the greater the power of God is made manifest in him. This is clearly evident in Mary. “The Lord done great things for me… for he has looked on the lowliness of his servant.”

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