Monday, October 24, 2016

MUSTARD SEED, YEAST


Homily for October 25th, 2017: Luke 13: 18-21.

          The kingdom of God, Jesus says, is “like a mustard seed … the smallest of all seeds.” From tiny beginnings comes a great bush, large enough to shelter birds, who build their nests in its branches. God’s kingdom is not identical with his Church. Yet what Jesus says about the kingdom in this little parable is also true of the Church. Who could have predicted that the little band of humble friends of Jesus whom we read about in the gospels would grow into the worldwide Church we see today? Nobody! Yet so it is. Jesus knows what he is about. With this comparison of God’s kingdom to mustard seed, he spoke the truth.

The kingdom is also, Jesus says, “like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” Do those words reflect a childhood memory: Jesus recalling how he had watched his mother mixing leaven with dough, kneading it, and then setting it in the sun, which caused the dough to rise, so that it could be baked in the oven? We cannot say; but it is entirely possible. The meaning of this parable is similar to that of the mustard seed. From small, seemingly insignificant beginnings, comes growth that no one could have predicted.

Why do you suppose Jesus chose parables as his favorite form of teaching? Well, who doesn’t like a good story?  Stories have a universal appeal, to young children, but also to adults. But there is another reason why Jesus chose to teach through stories. Because stories are much easier to understand than abstract explanations. In his book, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI writes: “Every teacher who wants to communicate new knowledge to his listeners naturally makes constant use of example or parable. ... By means of parable he brings something distant within their reach so that, using the parable as a bridge, they can arrive at what was previously unknown.”  

The two little parables we have heard today proclaim God’s love – but also our need to respond with love: for him and for others.