Grace to you!
Recently in Dublin, I had a warm and uplifting conversation with a teen who is passionate about his faith. He had a unique boldness regarding his identity as a believer in Christ. The freshness of his love for the Lord is rare for many of his age in our time, especially in the West.
Seeing I’m a priest (I was on Roman collar), he started off a conversation on the faith, the world, the need for fervent evangelization and other matters. We had a wonderful chat. It was a refreshing moment while in transit.
One of the topics we discussed related to how the kingdom of God works in the soul. He shared his frustration in trying to convince a number of his friends about the need for faith in Christ. He wondered if I could offer some suggestions. Part of today’s reflection, which ties into the Gospel readings, are a few of the results of our conversation.
Often, we suppose when we do this, do that, say this or say that, there will be the flourishing of God’s kingdom. You may have received or have been “sold” one of those “how-to-do” kits for evangelization and catechesis. When you read some of them, they sound like a marketing package which presumes the work is the salesman’s expertise that leads to a competitive advantage. Unfortunately, it is a total misunderstanding of the working of God and the grace of evangelization.
We read two powerful metaphors of the kingdom of God in the Gospel of Mark 4:26-35. The first parable (Mark 4:26-29), found only in the Gospel of Mark, is about the seed growing by itself. The second parable (Mark 4:30-35) is the popular story of the mustard seed (found also in Mt 13:31-32; and Lk 13:18-19). Both parables, though with slightly different messages, have one common theme; namely, the kingdom of God works by God’s grace. The birth of the Church and her renewal, the transformation of society, as well as change of individual hearts leading to the flourishing of the reign of God on earth, is by God’s grace.
Farmers would relate to the parable of the seed growing by itself much more than others. They plow the soil, water it and sow the seed. They go home. In few days, the seed germinates, and before long it has grown to produce fruit or reach is maturation for harvest. What the farmer does is to plant. The farmer does not make the seed germinate. The seed has its own inner force to germinate and produce fruit.
The Lord compares the kingdom to this reality. Just as Christ, the Word has sowed his life for the world, leading to the birth of the Church, the same way the Word will continues to touch hearts and souls in ways we do not know. Our job as members of Christ’s body, those who have accepted his call to renewal, is to bear witness to the same joy and life we have received. The growth belongs to God. It is by his grace. So, if we have any tools for evangelization, they are not to be about how to convert people or change people’s life, but how to lead people to Christ, who changes lives. Sounds similar, but actually it is completely different. The first presumes you can preach people to conversion. Unfortunately, no one can except God. The second acknowledges that the role of a witness is to testify about Christ and that the change happens by God’s grace. That is the best disposition to evangelization.
The same applies to the parable of the mustard seed. The mustard seed isn’t the smallest of all the seeds. Rather, the phrase “as small as the mustard seed” was a metaphor that was common among the Jews of the time. So, the Lord compares the kingdom to that natural seed which was considered small, but which, when sown, grows with incredible foliage and fruits.
By this, the Lord assures that when the kingdom of God, Christ, is sown in a heart, it grows into a large shrub, providing food for the hungry heart and shelter for the insecure. All this by the power of the grace of God, Christ, who is the kingdom revealed to us in history.
To embrace Christ is to embrace the Kingdom. To preach Christ, no matter how little our witness of him may be, is to sow a powerful seed in the hearts of people and society. What happens days, weeks, months or years after, only God knows. He knows how to make the seed grow. Trust God. God is faithful.
This is a big lesson for all of us. Sometimes, we take the place of God by assuming we can change the world. No one can change the world. Rather, we can be disciples of God so that his grace through us can change the world.
Our job is to be vehicles through which the seed, the love, the peace and grace of Christ will shine forth. If it does, believe you me, God knows how to make his word transform people from within.
May this be a comforting word for you in dealing with the complex world we are in today. May it be your blessed assurance that the Lord is still in charge.
Remain blessed. God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[11th Sunday Ordinary Time B: Ez 17:22-24; 2 Cor 5:6-10; Mk 4:26-35]
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.