Today Catholic Christians celebrate the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
On this day, we hear various ways that Jesus was trying to teach the crowds about the concept of the “kingdom of heaven.”
This homily focuses on one of today’s parables, that of the mustard seed. In the Gospel passage we have today from St. Matthew, we hear Jesus say, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches” (Matthew 13: 31-32).
Before highlighting some Biblical principals we can glean from this passage, let’s look at the story about the kingdom called, “The Flower Lady.”
One evening, a worker was making his way home from work when he stopped to rest on the side of the road. Suddenly, a woman came by with a cart filled with sweet-smelling flowers that seemed to take away his weariness and lighten his spirits. He had never before experienced such an effect from his own flowers.
“How much do the flowers cost?” he asked the woman.
“Oh, these flowers are free for the asking. Please, take as many as a you like,” she replied.
“Are you sure you don’t want anything in return for the flowers?” asked the man.
“Your gratitude is enough,” replied the woman.
The man filled his arms with the magnificent flowers and made his way home. His wife and children, too, were delighted with the remarkable flowers, for they not only delighted the eyes, they also refreshed the soul.
So as to not lose the treasure of the flowers when the blooms died, the man planted them in a small plot of land behind his house. Sunlight and water was all that was needed to keep the flowers alive. The flowers continued their magic. Soon, the garden became a place of serenity, kind of a natural sanctuary where one could find peace from the stresses of daily life.
At the same time, the family grew, and soon more children came to play. And the more children that came to play near and in the garden, the more concerned the man became that the children would harm the flowers. So to protect the garden, he built a high wall around the garden. In time, because of his many children and grandchildren, he would allow they entrance to the small sanctuary, but only sparingly and then only with numerous precautions.
Unfortunately, this began to cause stress in the family. And when the father’s stress became great, he would refuse the children entrance to the garden and the flowers. Eventually, the father set up rules concerning who could enter the sanctuary, how they could enter, and what they could do while they were there. For his part, the father continued to see that his treasured flowers received enough sunlight and water so they could continue their magic.
But as more and more grandchildren began to appear, the man felt even more pressure to safeguard his treasure. Now, he began to restrict entrance to the sanctuary with even greater zeal. He set up offices to judge who was worthy and who was unworthy to enter this sanctuary. Soon, lawyers became involved to defend, judges to weigh, guards to safeguard, caretakers to upkeep, and so on.
The man’s family, however, saw less and less of the flowers and experienced less and less of their magical powers. The magic garden became less important to them. So, many of them went off by themselves in search of the flower lady. Fortunately, she was still out in the world, still giving away her amazing flowers for anyone who came along and asked for some.
From this interesting story, and from the story of the mustard seed, we can learn many things. Here are just three.
First, the Kingdom of Heaven about which Jesus was talking when he gave the parable of the mustard seed begins on earth and continues in heaven. It is our job as Christians to help build up this kingdom on earth the best we can. We do this by trying to build a better world, a world based on the triple love command of Jesus.
Second, building implied change, and change can be messy. If you have ever lived through a house renovation, you know what I mean. Just as the mustard seed became a bush large enough for the birds of the air to make their home, we too must grow. We even have a saying for that that goes, “Our life is God’s gift to us. What we make of it is our gift to God.” And the process of growing is fraught with messiness – lots of errors and pain and do-overs; it is not smooth.
And third, all people are called to the kingdom, for all people are God’s children. We should not be spending our time creating barriers to keep people out of the kingdom as the father did in the garden story. On the contrary, we should welcome all to come to the Lord in the sanctuary of the church.
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to reflect on how we build up the kingdom. Do we welcome all to the sanctuary? Or do are we so possessive that we create barriers?
And that is the good news I have for you on this Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2017.
Story source: John R. Aurelio. “The Flower Lady.” In Colors! Stories of the Kingdom
by John Aurelio. New York: Crossroads, 1993, pp. 146-147.