Johann Baptist Metz once spoke of the Gospel stories of Jesus as “dangerous memories.” Today’s Gospel is one of them. On the surface it may seem quaint because its revolutionary impact has been weakened over time. But, in first century Palestine Jesus’ followers and farmers – people of the land, would have gotten the point.
The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed – small and seemingly insignificant. But, once it’s been sown, or even just scattered on the ground, it can take root and grow rapidly, spreading over everything indiscriminately (like kudzu in the South!). No self-respecting farmer would plant a mustard seed! Actually planting mustard in enclosed garden plots or near fields of grain was prohibited, and eventually prohibited in all of Jewish-held Judea and the region of Galilee. Mustard also threw purity boundaries into confusion because it spreads indiscriminately thereby violating the prohibition against planting two kinds of seed in the same field. So the mustard shrub becomes an agent of confusion and a source of uncleanness.
So, again how can this troublesome weed be an image of the Kingdom of God? Perhaps because the Kingdom of God will take root no matter how small and insignificant its beginning is, and it will grow and spread anywhere and everywhere. And once this shrub has grown it spreads and branches out, and becomes a resting place or home to the birds of the air, and so much more. Jesus couldn’t come right out and say all this, and challenge the authorities of the day. So he spoke in parables.
About the first part of this Gospel passage – scattering seed and letting it grow day and night. This puts me in mind of Pope Francis. I feel like he has been scattering seeds by various actions and comments he makes regarding controversial issues. Sometimes I wish he would speak more definitively and actually change Church law. But, maybe he’s planting the seeds which will eventually, slowly bear fruit and bring forth a harvest of justice for the Church and the world. I remember the late Richard McBrien saying at Notre Dame that the Church is still in its infancy, still becoming. We’re not there yet. Jesus planted lots of seeds and they are still growing slowly, day and night – just not ripe yet.
And what about us? Who has planted seeds in our lives that have brought about surprising results? Or an abundant harvest? What new seeds are being planted in us now? Just as patience is needed when planting a garden – we need to be patient with ourselves, and one another as new seeds take root in us.
Today’s parables call us to trust that God is still working in us, slowly day and night. Seen and unseen. Bidden or unbidden. We just have to allow it and hopefully recognize it, and be grateful for it.
-S. Rosemary Riggie
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