It is common for a teacher to try to use an familiar example to help students grasp and understand a complex topic. The prophet Jeremiah uses such images quite often when trying to get the people to convert. Today’s image is quite strange, but the point is clear. If we allow ourselves to be away from God, when God has done so many things for us, we will rot. The good news is indeed the gospel. Just a little bit of God’s grace is enough to help us to experience grace and life.
Don’t sell God short. It can be really easy to give up on God or to think there is a situation that is too hard for God to see us through. Somehow we can sink to thinking that it is all up to us, and that only we can save ourselves. Think of the disciples in today’s reading. They had seen Jesus do all kinds of miracles. How hard could it be?
Yet they failed. Why? Because they did not believe. They did not have faith. And then Jesus reminds them: if you had even a little bit of faith, you could move mountains. If we had a little bit of faith, imagine what we could do? We could move mountains.
Patience. Suffering. These two words can both be words that remind us it is difficult to live life. That is because we all know that life is hard. Buddhism sees that as one of the Four Noble Truths. It is the rare person that does not suffer. Almost everyone suffers. Almost everyone experiences pain and difficulty. The life of faith means understanding that life is hard.
And yet people do not recognize this. We can feel singled out for a difficult life. It seems sometimes that we are the only ones who suffer. We can become jealous, or envious of what we think others have. Things seem to be easy for others. It can feel difficult for us. We need patience in our suffering.
At other times we can feel threatened by the suffering of others. We can think that they suffer because they are lazy. They suffer because they do not want to work. They suffer because they have defects in their character. In fact, it has become quite fashionable to blame the poor for being poor. It has become fashionable to blame addicts for being addicts. It can become fashionable to believe that people endure hardships and suffering because they want to endure hardships. Today’s first reading reminds us that being a follower of Jesus means patience in suffering, and accompanying those who suffer.
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It is said that a little kindness goes a long way. It may be one of the reasons why Pope Francis has captured the world’s imagination. He seems like kind man. There are other things that in small amounts make a big difference. Hot sauce, for example. It does not take much of the smell of skunk to make a big difference. But certain things, little tiny amounts, make a big difference. Small things can have great impact.
Such is part of the message of today’s gospel reading. Small tiny mustard seeds can become shrubs that are like large trees. A small package of yeast can cause a whole loaf of bread to rise. When it comes to the kingdom of God only a small amount of openness is needed for great things to happen.
Sometimes in the spiritual life, we make the mistake of thinking that for authentic spiritual growth to occur we must do unbelievably difficult or challenging things. We must go on this long retreat, or seek out someone who was tremendously spiritually gifted, or spend hours every day in some aspect of prayer.
Have you ever had the experience where you were standing near something, or in front of something, which made you feel very small? I had such an experience not too long ago when I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time. I do not know what I expected, but it easily surpassed it. It was so amazingly beautiful. And is was large. Very large. I could not help but think about the power behind the creation of this immense and magnificent canyon.
On the one hand I was aware on some level of the power of water. But the Grand Canyon is so awesome and immense, I could not help but think of the magnificence of God. And I felt so tiny, so small, next to something so grand. (No pun intended.) So since that visit a few months ago, I hear words like those a little differently in the first reading. God is from eternity. And that is a long time.
It reminds me that regardless of what I may think about God, about life, about faith, I simply cannot exhaust the riches of God. God is eternal, infinite, all-loving. I need to be humble enough to recognize there is always more to learn about God. I cannot exhaust God. Even if I find myself to be a generous person, I cannot out do God in generosity. Even if I am a loving person, I cannot be more loving than God.
But if I am a person who seeks God, recognizing that in seeking God I find more than I can imagine is even possible, then I am on to something. And the good news of the gospel is that if my faith is as small as a mustard seed, then everything is possible, since with God all things are possible.
So, do we as believers project that the search for God is worth it? Do I help those who do not experience God immediately to see that it is in attentive waiting that we can see most clearly? This waiting, seeking, searching, is not unique to Catholics. Everyone searching beyond themselves realizes the importance of slowing down life to see it for what it is.
So, think of something magnificent. And realize, that pales in comparison to the immense and eternal God.
Little things can become big things. There are so many instances in life where we see this truth. In March of 1982, an article was published that became known as espousing the “Broken Window” theory. Namely, ignoring “small things” caused them to turn into “big things”. While not all agree with the broken window theory, it was cited as a successful underpinning to the cleaning up of crime in New York City by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, The Tipping Point.
Anyone who has looked at an acorn can see the difference in size between it and an oak tree. Recent pictures of Michael Phelps’ mother reminds us that even he was a small baby at one time in his life.
We also can look at how our faith can be the same way. Small, unchecked bad attitudes, habits or seemingly harmless actions done with out reflection can be the fertile soil for much more negative things. Or, with proper reflection and prayer, such small things as good attitudes, habits, or seemingly inconsequential actions can be the fertile soil for such activity to be rooted in the Kingdom of God.
Today’s gospel challenges us to be attentive to the little things. First, the gospel awareness of the Kingdom of God is really about acknowledging that while we can see patterns in our life, we are not always certain how these patterns arise. Namely, there is a tension between our belief that the world is knowable, with the tension there is a mystery present to in human existence.
Certainly it is possible for us to become impatient with the pace of our spiritual growth. At the same time, because growth can occur so slowly, we can ignore it altogether. But inside of us, because of God’s grace, there is immense possibility. We can become far more than we ever imagined.
We, small and insignificant human beings, can become large, like a mustard seed in our faith. We, small and insignificant human beings, can have tremendous impact throughout our world, like yeast in dough. As we are reminded, with God, all things are possible.