Updated: Aug 23, 2021
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
Before I comment on the content of the parables we’ve just heard, I do want to mention a word about parables themselves as a form of teaching. Parables were simple stories akin to allegories, which illustrate certain moral and spiritual truths.
Now, while parables are readily accessible to a broad spectrum of people, Christ's use of them goes beyond merely speaking to them in terms they could understand. Yes, parables are easily remembered, and are a springboard for further meditation. But there’s an underlying assumption that validates the use of parables in the first place, not as a concession for simple minds, but rather as accurate descriptors of deep spiritual realities.
You see, God is the creator of heaven and earth; of all things—seen and unseen; the great and the small alike. The profundity the crowns the highest heavens can also be found in the most humble circumstances.
That’s the nature and mystery of God’s dominion and providence. The smallest grain of wheat can reveal God’s glory—by virtue of simply existing rather than not existing. The smile of an infant can communicate perfect love. A servant can teach the most learned theologian. A child can display the courageous faith of the martyr. The infinity of God can appear to be nothing other than a small morsel of bread. Four simple words, under the proper circumstances, is all it takes to actualize God’s true presence in the world (i.e. “this is my body”). Likewise, the simplest story—or parable—can convey God’s truth without mitigation.
In our gospel passage today, Jesus uses parables to describe the kingdom of God. He speaks of a seed that has a life of its own, once planted, apart from the life of the farmer. He speaks of the mustard seed; the smallest of seeds that grows into the largest of shrubs.
I want to mention two aspects of seeds that call for our attention today.
First, a seed and a tree in its fullness bear very little resemblance to each other. Even though, they are one and the same genetically, there’s virtually no comparison when comparing one stage of life to the other. Also, when we consider the entire life of a tree, a seed exists for but a moment, when compared to the many years—perhaps hundreds—a tree will live when fully mature.
Likewise, we too, as we are now, bear very little resemblance to how we shall be in eternity. Saint John the Apostle writes of this: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
Everything that we see and experience today will be integrated in some way with the eternal tomorrow. But the experience of that tomorrow remains a mystery. Everything we have now—and what we do with those things—is an investment into our eternal retirement. But what that retirement looks like, we can't fully know. Who and what we are now will be consistent with who and what we’ll be in eternity. But our eyes are blind to that eternity.
That eternity will be fulfilled at the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day. Our souls will be reunited with our bodies, and we’ll no longer be subject to death or decay, or to any limitations of the flesh. We’ll be perfect, just as our heavenly Father and Jesus are perfect.
And as the form of a seed exists for but a moment, when compared to a tree’s entire life; our lives now pass in the briefest of moments, when compared to the eternity that awaits us. That’s the first aspect: the brief life we live today is consistent but bears very little resemblance to the life we’ll have at the Resurrection.
Secondly, the process by which a seed develops into a tree reminds us of how we mature spiritually. Think of how a seed grows. A seed doesn’t make sense on its own. It’s not self-sufficient. It must be planted in order to grow.
It certainly has the potential of becoming a mighty tree. But unless it’s planted, that potential is never fully realized. At some point, a seed must grow beyond itself, by breaking through the hardness of the shell that once kept it safe. That happens through its relationship with the soil.
We’re the same way. Like many seeds, we too can also be surrounded by a hard shell—metaphorically. Maybe we’ve had to harden our hearts in some way, to “protect” ourselves from being hurt. But we can’t stay within our shells, any more than a seed can remain unbroken.
We too must be planted in order to grow. And the soil in which we grow is our network of relationships. When our relationships are in right order, we gain the courage to become vulnerable. We allow the walls of our hearts to go down. We dare to grow beyond our isolated selves, and give ourselves permission to be nourished more at a deeper level. When we receive nourishment from others, we continue to grow, like a tree that “puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
That’s our second aspect. A seed must be planted in order to grow. We are planted in our network of relationships. We need those relationships to grow beyond our own shells. Through the grace of the Mass, may our relationship with Christ continue to nourish us at the greatest level, and cause us to grow to his perfection. May God bless you.