Power Hidden in a Seed
In the parable about the mustard seed, we learn that a tiny mustard seed can grow into a great plant. God can use small things to do great works. Jesus used this parable to reach us about the Kingdom of God. He used the image of a tiny seed. For Jesus’ Jewish audience, the idea of the Kingdom as a seed must have been quite a surprise. The people would have had the idea of a large and mighty army or some other grand image for the Kingdom. But Jesus says God’s Kingdom is like a mustard seed which he describes by hyperbole as “the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.” But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants (another hyperbole). Jesus says that it “puts forth large branches” that shelter many birds in its shade. He is evoking an Old Testament image of a lofty shady tree, symbolizing an empire that grants protection to peoples of difference races and tongues. The prophet Ezekiel describes God taking a little tender shoot from the branch of a cedar tree and planting it on a high and lofty mountain. It became a majestic cedar and birds of every kind dwelt in its shade. In Ezekiel and in Jesus’ parable we have a similar image pointing to the humble beginnings of God’s Kingdom and then its growth to having a worldwide reach.
When we think of the beginning of God’s Kingdom on earth, the beginning of the Church, we realize it was very small and humble. It began with Jesus and a small band of followers. It has grown into an immense tree with people of every race, nation, and language all over the world. This growth took place due to God’s hidden power, like that hidden in a seed.
At this Mass today, I think of your small and humble community of Poor Sisters of Saint Clare. You are like a mustard seed in God’s Kingdom. As I mentioned, God can use small things to do great works. Sister Agnes Loretta perpetually vows today to be a branch on your tree. We can also think of Jesus’ image of Himself as the vine and we as the branches. We became branches on the vine; we became united to Christ the vine at our baptism. How appropriate that on this very day, June 17th, at the age of 9, Sister Agnes Loretta was baptized. Today, Sister Agnes Loretta dedicates herself to remain on the vine and to grow on the vine, being especially attached in a lifetime of prayer, joyful chastity, detached from other things by poverty, and by humble obedience.
We have another parable about a seed in the Gospel.
The short parable of the growing seed, immediately before the parable of the mustard seed, teaches us an important truth about the Kingdom of God. A man scattered seed on the ground. The seed sprouted and grew and the man did not know how. Jesus said: “Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full gain in the ear.” Now, the farmer obviously can water, weed, and fertilize the ground, but he can’t make the ripe grain appear a day before its appointed time. The farmer needs to trust and be patient, be ready with his sickle to harvest when the grain is ripe.
With this parable, Jesus is teaching us that the Kingdom of God is a divine work, not a human achievement. God brings about its growth, which at times is imperceptible. We cooperate, but we cannot control or hasten the arrival of the Kingdom, by our efforts any more than the farmer can harvest his grain in January. That’s why we pray “Thy Kingdom come.” Saint Paul knew this well. That’s why he wrote to the Corinthians: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth.” So when it comes to our lives and the Kingdom of God, this is important to remember. We are to be ready for the harvest (a Biblical image for the final judgment). How? By our inner growth in holiness and virtue, which God brings about through our cooperation with His grace. Does this mean that our efforts for the Kingdom are fruitless? No! God brings this growth about, in us and in His Church. He causes the growth, however, through our cooperation with His grace. This is an important warning lest we think or claim that we can bring about the Kingdom or become holy by our own efforts or our own projects or programs.
This is an important lesson for Sister Agnes Loretta today. As you make your profession of vows, you know that what you do is impossible without God’s grace. Your consecrated life as a Poor Sister of Saint Clare is a vocation, a gift from the Lord. Freely, you receive this gift. God desires your growth, like the growth of the seed in the parable. Through your prayer and cloistered life, your love here in this community, and your acts of kindness, you are watering that seed. Through your penance and sacrifices, you weed and fertilize the ground. Then, like the farmer, you trust and have patience, allowing the Lord to bring about your growth in holiness. Your fidelity to your vows is a cooperation with God’s grace. This is how you are to await the harvest.
Saint Paul writes that “we walk by faith and not by sight.” He says that on earth we are at home in the body and away from the Lord. He expresses his desire to go home to the Lord. Yet, Paul realizes that it’s not up to us when we will pass on from this life, so, in the meantime, what’s important is to seek to please the Lord. Paul himself eagerly desired to do everything according to the divine will, to please God in all things. He offers as a crucial reason why it is important to walk by faith and to seek constantly to please the Lord: because he writes, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” Each one of us will have to give an account of our lives to Christ.
Sister Agnes Loretta, you are walking by faith. The great step you take today is a step of faith. You desire, like Saint Paul, to please the Lord, to do His will. And you have carefully and prayerfully discerned His call to follow Him as a Poor Sister of Saint Clare. We rejoice with you today and we pray for you. I pray that, like the mustard seed, tiny and humble, you will continue to grow into a beautiful branch on the tree that bears wonderful fruit – not mustard, but virtues, fruits of holiness that will benefit the Church, God’s kingdom on earth.
Sister Agnes Loretta, may Mary our mother be always close to you! She is the most beautiful branch on the tree. Mary is your most perfect model, after Jesus, of poverty, chastity, and obedience. May the lowly Virgin of Nazareth intercede for you always!
--Bishop Kevin C Rhoades