11th Sunday of the Year Ezekiel 17:22–24; 2 Corinthians 5:6–10; Mark 4:26–34
Knotholes God planted the seed of his kingdom in our heart. We must nurture it with trust and with patience.
In the early years of baseball, there weren’t any reenforced concrete stadiums. There was only a grandstand with a broad fence enclosing the outfield.
Sometimes the board fence had a knothole in it. Small boys would flock around it to get a free glimpse of the game.
A knothole didn’t offer a good view of the game, but it was good enough to give an idea of what was going on.
Some ballpark fences had several knotholes. There would be one in left field, one in center field, and another in right field. By moving from one to the other, you could get different views of the game.
The parables of Jesus are a lot like knotholes in a ballpark fence. They give you a glimpse of God’s kingdom. Parables don’t give you a good view of it, but it’s good enough to give you an idea of what the kingdom is like.
Take the fourth chapter of Mark’s Gospel. It contains three different parables about God’s kingdom. By moving fromone to the other, you can get three different views of the kingdom.
Interestingly, all three parables are about seeds.
The first parable tells about a farmer who planted seed. Some was planted in good soil, some in bad soil. Only the seed in the good soil bore fruit.
The second parable, which we just read in today’s gospel, tells how seed grows beneath the soil without the farmer knowing how. It’s a mystery to him.
The third parable, which we also read in today’s gospel, contrasts the tiny seed to the large beautiful plant that grows from it.
Each of these three parables gives us an insight into God’s kingdom.
The first parable reveals that the kingdom can grow only in good hearts—hearts that are open to it.
The second parable reveals that God’s kingdom grows in our heart in a marvelous, mysterious way, without our knowing how.
The third parable reveals that the tiny seed of the kingdom in our heart will eventually grow into something beautiful.
Mark’s three seed parables recall an unusual seed story by Joel Weldon. Weldon is an expert on helping people develop their full potential.
Weldon says that one of the strangest seeds in the world is the seed of the Chinese bamboo tree. It lies buried in the soil for five years before any seedling or sprout appears above ground.
Think of it! Five years! All during these five years the seed must be cultivated, that is, watered and fertilized regularly.
Now comes the big surprise. When the bamboo seedling finally emerges from the ground, it grows to a height of 90 feet in just six weeks.
Why does the seedling take so long to emerge? Why does it grow so fast once it emerges?
Plant experts say that during its first five years in the soil, the bamboo seed is busy building an elaborate root system. It’s this root system that enables it to grow 90 feet in six weeks.
The seed of God’s kingdom is like the seed of the bamboo tree. It too takes a long time to emerge.
Sometimes it takes so long that we wonder, “Did the seed of the kingdom—planted in us at baptism—ever take root? Maybe it fell on a rock inour heart and died. Maybe it got choked by the thorns of our sins.”
This is where the story of the bamboo seed helps. It reminds us that the seed of God’s kingdom is building an elaborate root system inside us. And eventually, from this root system, something beautiful will grow. That explains why it’s taking so long to emerge.
Practically, what does all this mean for us?
It means two things.
First, it means we must trust God. He planted the seed of his kingdom inside us. He understands what’s happening in our heart, even if we don’t.
Second, we need to be patient. Even though God’s kingdom doesn’t seem to be growing inside us—even though we don’t seem to be getting holier—we shouldn’t be discouraged. Rather, we should keep on cultivating the seed inside us, especially by praying and by receiving the sacraments.
For just as the Chinese farmer cultivated the bamboo seed patiently for five long years, so we should patiently cultivate the seed of God’s kingdom inside us.
One model of the trust and patience we need is provided by fathers and mothers. Raising a family today takes lots of patience and trust.
First, it takes lots of trust. Parents can’t be with children all the time, so they must learn to trust them. And sometimes that trust gets betrayed. What do parents do when this happens? They forgive the child and go on trusting.
Second, raising a family takes lots of patience. Sometimes parens see little evidence of maturity in a child. Sometimes what the child thinks is maturity turns out not to be. What do parents do when this happens? They love the child even more and go on being patient.
It’s the same way with the seed of God’s kingdom in our heart.
We must trust God and be patient. God is trying to grow something special in us—something beautiful, something infinitely more marvelous and complex than a bamboo tree.
If we trust God and remain patient, things will work out in God’s own time and in God’s own way. The day will come when God’s kingdom will emerge from our heart and grow into something glorious, something we will thank God for forever.
So the message in today’s readings comes down to this:
God planted the seed of his kingdom in our heart at baptism. Our job right now is to nurture it, trustfully and patiently, by praying and by receiving the sacraments.
Let’s close withthe prayer of a wife for her husband. It’s short but beautiful. Please pray along with me in silence:
“Lord, place your hand on his shoulder. Whisper your voice in his ear. Put your love in his heart. Help him fulfill your plan in his life.” Anonymous
Series II 11th Sunday of the Year Ezekiel 17:22–24; 2 Corinthians 5:6–10; Mark 4:26–34
Louis Braille Nothing is too tiny or insignificant that God can’t use it to accomplish great things.
In 1812, three-year-old Louis Braille, son of a French leather worker, had an accident in his father’s shop. The accident left him totally blind.
When Louis grew older, his family enrolled him in a school for the blind in Paris.
There students read from huge books by feeling big, raised letters with their fingers. It was a slow process that took 15 minutes to read one paragraph.
One day a retired French army officer, named Charles Barbier, visited the school and gave the students a demonstration of what he called “night writing.’’
It was a system of writing invented by the French army to send coded messages back and forth on battlefields at night.
The system involved punching a series of holes in a paper according to patterns. These patterns could be read by feeling them with the fingers.
The process took up a lot of space, and only the simplest messages could be sent. But it was a way to communicate at night when flashlights were unheard of.
Young Louis Braille was fascinated by the system. He was convinced it could be used to make reading easier for the blind. So he went to work simplifying the system. He also replaced punched holes with raised dots.
Louis’s system caught on and spread across the world. Today we know it as Braille.
Ironically, the system didn’t become widespread until after Louis Braille’s death. When he died, the newspapers didn’t even carry a notice of his death.
Ilike that story because it underscores three things that need underscoring in today’s world.
The first thing is the same thing that today’s Scripture readings underscore. It is this:
Just as the greatest trees in a forest often grow out of the tiniest seed, so the greatest movements in the world often grow out of the tiniest beginning.
Louis Braille’s tiny idea grew into a great movement that has revolutionized the world of the blind. The second thing that the story of Louis Braille underscores is that the people who begin great movements are often tiny and insignificant themselves.
For example, young Louis Braille was tiny and insignificant compared to the brilliant scholars and educated people of his day. Yet, it was he who came up with the revolutionary idea of Braille.
The third thing that the story of Louis Braille underscores is that people who begin great movements often die without seeing the results of their work.
Braille did not develop into a worldwide movement until after Louis’s death.
And so the story of Louis Braille illustrates three important points.
First, it illustrates that the greatest movements in history, like the kingdom of God, often grow out of the tiniest seeds. Jesus himself said of the kingdom of God:
“It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.’’
Second, it illustrates that the people who begin these great movements in history are often tiny and insignificant themselves. Commenting on this, Saint Paul writes:
“God purposely chose . . . what the world considers weak in order to shame the powerful. He chose what the world looks down on and despises and thinks is nothing, in order to destroy what the world thinks is important.’’ 1 Corinthians 1:27–28
Finally, the story of Louis Braille illustrates that the people who begin great movements often die before receiving credit for the movement they started.
This is something that often happens. Jesus himself died when the kingdom of God was still a tiny and insignificant seed. Susan B. Anthony died when her movement for women’s rights was still a tiny and insignificant seed. Martin Luther King died when his movement for civil rights was still a tiny and insignificant seed.
This leads us to the practical message contained in today’s Scripture readings. It is this: No seed is so tiny that God can’t make a tree out of it.
Concretely, this means that if we think that anything we can do to change people’s attitudes toward the destruction of innocent life is too tiny to make a difference, we haven’t understood the practical message of today’s Scripture readings.
If we think that anything we can do to change people’s attitudes toward the destruction of our planet is too tiny to make a difference, we haven’t understood the practical message of today’s Scripture readings.
If we think that anything we can do to spread God’s kingdom on earth is too tiny to make a difference, we haven’t understood the practical message of today’s Scripture readings.
This is the practical message that Jesus wishes to teach us today.
This is the great mystery that we celebrate in this liturgy.
This is the good news that Jesus wants us to communicate to our world, namely, that no seed is so small that it can’t grow into a great tree.
Let’s close with a short, simple poem that sums up the message and spirit of today’s gospel.
I’m only a spark, Make me a fire. I’m only a string, Make me a lyre.
“I’m only an ant-hill, Make me a mountain. I’m only a drop, Make me a fountain.
“I’m only a feather, Make me a wing. I’m only a beggar, Make me a king. Amado Nervo
Series III 11th Sunday of the Year Ezekiel 17:22–24, 2 Corinthians 5:6–10, Mark 4:26–34
The Kingdom and the Church Seed and sign of the Kingdom.
Jesus said, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.” Mark 4:30–31
One day five-year-old Sharon was visiting her grandmother. During her visit her grandmother gave her a cucumber inside a bottle.
Sharon was fascinated by it and said: “Grandma how did it get inside the bottle through such a tiny hole?” Her grandmother smiled and said:
“Sharon, if I told you the secret right away, it would spoil a bigger secret that I want to tell you later. Think about it for a while.
“I’m sure you will discover the answer. And when you do, I’ll tell you an even bigger secret.”
About a week later, Sharon was picking flowers in her grandmother’s garden.
Suddenly, she spotted a bottle into which her grandmother had inserted a little vine with a tiny cucumber on it. Now she knew how her grandmother did it: she inserted it in the bottle when it was little and let to grow big there. She hurried to her grandmother. Dancing up and down, she said,
“Grandma, now that I know the little secret, tell me the big secret. I can hardly wait!”
Her grandmother began:
“The secret is this: a good habit that you form now is like putting a tiny cucumber in a bottle. Slowly, it grows bigger and bigger inside you, so that when you’re older, nobody can take it from you.
“And so, the secret is this, Sharon. If you want to be happy later on start putting good habits inside you now.”
In today’s gospel Jesus tells us a secret not unlike the one Sharon’s grandmother told her.
He has planted the tiny mustard seed of God’s kingdom inside each of us. There it is “sprouting and growing” without our being aware of it.
Our job is to nourish it with prayer and good works until it grows so big nobody can take it from us—not misfortune, not persecution, not even death itself.
Here is it important to note that the growth of God’s kingdom within each of us is a slow, gradual process.
Just as it takes time for a tiny cucumber to grow into a large one in a bottle, so it is with the Kingdom of God. This is why there is still evil inside our hearts and, especially, inside our world.
The seed of God’s kingdom has been planted; it is growing, but it has not yet reached its fullness.
This is why we still pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come!”
Meanwhile, the “kingdom of Satan” continues to do battle with the Kingdom of God.
In other words, the kingdom of Satan is only under sentence of death. It has not yet been destroyed. As a result it is still waging war in our world.
This brings us to a second important point about the Kingdom of God.
Unlike the visible plant that emerges from the tiny mustard seed, for all to see, the Kingdom of God is invisible and can’t be seen. It is spiritual. Jesus said:
“The Kingdom of God does not come in such a way as to be seen. No one can say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’; because the Kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20–21
That leads us to the role of the Church in all this. Jesus instituted the Church to serve a twofold purpose. First, it serves as the “seed” from which the Kingdom of God emerges. Second, it is the visible “sign” of God’s kingdom in our world.
The Church, like Jesus himself, has a twofold dimension: a divine dimension and human dimension.
The divine dimension is invisible. It is none other than Christ himself, who is the head and life of the Church.
The human dimension, on the other hand, is visible. It is the members of the Church.
By our witness and worship, we, the members of Christ’s body, make it visibly present and active in our world.
The human dimension of the Church is like everything human; it is flawed. This includes not only its membership, but also its leadership: its bishops and priests.
Because it is flawed, it does not always show forth the “face of Christ” to our world as it should. It, too, is vulnerable to sin and still struggling to be what God called it to be.
As a result the Church in its pilgrimage on earth will always be a mixture of light and darkness.
There will always be enough light for those who sincerely want to see and enough darkness for those whose disposition is otherwise.
This is how it should be. The light should never overpower us. It should only invite us.
To put it another way: when it comes to the presence in the Church, it will never shine forth so clearly as to leave us without questions.
Nor will it be concealed so completely as to mislead the sincere searcher. It will always leave open both possibilities.
And this is how it should be. Jesus respects our human freedom. He will not force us to follow him.
Allow me to conclude with an excerpt from a delightful poem by an unknown author.
It pretty much sums up what we have been trying to say. The poem reads:
I think I shall never see a Church that’s all it ought to be:
A Church whose members never stray beyond the straight and narrow way.
A Church that has no empty pews, whose pastor never has the blues.
Such perfect Churches there may be but none of them are known to me.
But still, we’ll work and play and plan to make our own the best we can.