One of the lessons I learned this week at a consultative meeting on how to realize the 5th goal of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) on gender equality, is that changes in the world will come about in small ways. This lesson was captured for me by John McArthur, the Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Brookings Institution, one of the groups that is steering this initiative.
According to him, when you wish to make changes in the world, you must make it “big enough to matter; and small enough to get done.” This requires embracing ‘bite-size’ approaches to global aspirations and making gradual changes in the world. This lesson, however, was taught long ago by the Lord and in the spiritual wisdom traditions of many indigenous civilizations.
Most people want to see changes and progress in the world. We face challenging and trying times in the world as we battle the pandemic, poverty, violence, and hatred. For many of us sometimes what we hear in the news about the world and about our churches breaks our hearts—the scandals, the wars, hunger, starvation, injustice, and unmerited suffering.
For people of faith, who put their trust in God and believe that God is in control, it is often difficult in these complex times to believe that God is still in charge and that we will witness changes in the world and reform in our churches and other religions.
Sometimes, it feels like our efforts to make a positive change in the world are not enough to bring about the desired changes or impact. Sometimes, we might feel helpless and despair about the slow pace of changes or even our own failures. This is why the message of the Gospel today grants us wisdom and guidance as we bear witness to the Gospel.
The message of the Mustard Seed in today’s Gospel is addressed to all of us. Jesus spoke this parable to his disciples because he knew their fears and doubts. Jesus was entrusting unto them the vocation of proclaiming the Gospel to the ends of the earth. And the Good Lord knew the questions in their hearts and their anxieties about their inadequacies and human limitations in proclaiming the Word of God. Jesus knew that these disciples will meet with resistance to the Gospel and that they risk rejection, persecution, and possible failure of the mission. This is why he gave them the wisdom of the Mustard seed which has three important messages for us.
First, the reign of God, that is, the will of God in the world and in our lives and in the world happens gradually. The Lord’s servants must learn to be patient and to trust in the Lord. Trusting in the Lord is not passivity or folding our hands; it means having faith in a God who works in you and with you in ways that you don’t often understand. Like the seed that is planted which grows while the farmer is sleeping so also faith invites us to see ourselves as that seed that God has planted in God’s divine garden. God waters, watches and nourishes the seed of God’s Word in our lives in ways unbeknown to us.
This is why St Paul invites us in the Second Reading to “walk by faith and not by sight”, taking daily actions that are pleasing to God. Faith moves us to face the daily challenges of changing ourselves and the world with courage. This is one way through which we co-operate in our own small ways as created freedoms to transform this world, by God’s grace in spite of all the contradictions, complexities, and confusion we see around us. St Paul reminds us also of the temporary nature of our human existence. We are pilgrims here on earth. As a result, our concern should not be about what will happen tomorrow or a preoccupation with our future which is really out of our hands. Rather, we should pay attention to the next step in our lives, what we are doing now and whether our works are pleasing to God. Following the words of the Responsorial Psalm, we are assured that “the just shall bear fruit” in God’s own time and in God’s own way.
The second wisdom lesson from the Mustard Seed is about the resilience of the seed itself. Sometimes in biblical interpretations of the parable of the seed, scholars concentrate on the soil on which the seed was planted—the world around us and the evils that war against the Word. But the mustard seed teaches us about the power and triumph of the Word of God against evil. It encourages you to remember that you bear the unconquerable seed of God’s spirit within you; the light of God shines in your life and illuminates the depths of your soul and that nothing—absolutely nothing in this created world—can defeat this seed that is planted in you by the God of life. The seed indeed is the promise of God that each and every one of us bears; the divine life that is engraved in the very depths of our souls that continues to grow in you in spite of yourself as you put your trust in God.
Finally, is the lesson of ‘smallness.’ The Mustard seed is said to be “the smallest of all the seeds on the earth”, but that grows to become the largest of all the seed. We can grow into this message in many ways:
First, I might be small in my own eyes and in the estimation of other people, but in God’s eye, I am small but mighty because God is using my smallness in miraculous ways beyond my comprehension to do greater things for God’s glory.
Second, it gives me hope that my small and insignificant efforts to be a better person or to bring small changes in the world matters to God and matters to my fellow human beings. My efforts may not bear fruits today, but they will surely bear fruit tomorrow as long as it is done with the desire to please God. So, we should not lose hope or give up on ourselves, on the church, society, God, or the world.
Third, is the importance of humility in doing what we do. Remember that the seed is God’s, not yours. You are ‘small’ and it is really true and you should not brag about anything or display any pride in what you have or who you are—the seed that God has planted. You must concentrate on your small efforts rather than agonize over the outcomes. St Paul’s words are instructive here, “So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Cor 3: 7).
May Jesus grant you the grace to walk by faith in seeing yourself as a seed from God that is meant not to fail. May you have the blessings of the Lord this week, helping you to see God’s grace in your life. May the light of faith move you to courageous witnessing so that by God’s grace your daily life will be a sacrificial unfolding of the mystery of divine love that unfolds like a mustard seed, slowly, but surely.