Year B – 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Year B - 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Like a Mustard Seed

(Ezek.17:22-24; 2Cor.5:6-10; Mk.4:26-34)

In Mark’s Gospel today, Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. What does He mean by that?

Let’s begin by explaining the Kingdom of God, a phrase that is used 122 times in the New Testament.

In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI says that the Kingdom of God isn’t a particular place or a thing, but a way of living that has three dimensions.

Firstly, the Kingdom of God is a person. It’s Jesus Christ himself, and Jesus, of course, is God’s presence among us. He represents both truth and the way we should live if we seek the best for ourselves.

Secondly, the Kingdom of God is inside us. It becomes real when we welcome Jesus into our hearts. It also becomes real when we allow Him to rule over our lives, and when we choose to live as He does.

And thirdly, the Kingdom of God is the Church. Despite all its faults and limitations, it’s through the Church that Jesus continues his mission and ministry in our world today.

How, then, is God’s kingdom like a mustard seed?

In the Gospel, Jesus says it’s ‘… like a mustard seed which … is the smallest of all the seeds … yet once it’s sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.’ 

Now, we know that Jesus isn’t speaking literally here, because the mustard seed isn’t the smallest of seeds. What Jesus is using here is an expression that was common in ancient times. But what does He mean?

In her book Everyday God, Paula Gooder says the mustard plant sometimes behaves like a weed. It can spread like wildfire and grow into a very large shrub where birds love to build their nests.

This is just like the Church. It has grown very large and just as birds like to nest in a tree, so many people flock to the Church as a great source of nourishment, rest and shelter.

But there’s another way of looking at today’s Gospel. The seed also represents our own efforts, and God’s grace is the action of the sun and rain on that seed. As St Paul says, it’s God who gives the growth. He makes seeds grow. 

Sometimes all we have to do is provide a small beginning and God will do the rest.  Even a kind word or a good deed can start something big.

In 1860, for example, St Mary McKillop went to look after her young cousins in Penola, South Australia, and soon started a school and a new religious order, the Josephites. Their ministry spread rapidly, and today they work in Australia, New Zealand, East Timor, Ireland, Scotland and South America.

In 1949 Mother Teresa of Calcutta went alone into the streets of Calcutta to help the sick and dying, and so began what is now an enormous ministry of love across the world, with thousands of priests, nuns and laypeople helping the poor in 90 countries.

And in 1976, Muhammad Yunus began the world’s first microcredit bank in Bangladesh, providing tiny business loans to entrepreneurs trapped by poverty. He began with a very small seed – by lending just $27 to a group of 42 women to start a business making bamboo stools. Since then, his Grameen Bank has spread to 59 countries and it has helped over 300 million people.

Clearly, a tiny seed can start something good, but it can also stop something bad.

In the early 400s, a humble monk named Telemachus travelled to Rome, and found himself in the crowds going to the Coliseum. Sitting there in the stadium, he was appalled to see gladiators killing each other.

He called out, ‘In the name of Jesus, Stop!’ But no one seemed to hear. He jumped over the wall into the arena and again called out, ‘In the name of Jesus, Stop!’ The people laughed, and the gladiators turned on him.

They killed St Telemachus and at that moment everyone was shocked. In silence they all went home.

That same day the Emperor Honorius banned violent games right across the Roman Empire.

There’s nothing ordinary about all this. This is how the Kingdom of God grows.

Each of us can start something great, or end something awful.

Sometimes we don’t even know we’re doing it, but all it takes is a small act of love, done in the name of Jesus.

And God then gives the growth.