By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
Homily for 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time - on the Gospel
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The Slow and Gradual Miracles of God

Ezekiel 17:22-24 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 Mark 4:26-34

"The mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small." These words penned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow represent a point of view that is rare in our religious experience today. Most believers today believe either that the mills of God have ground to a halt and no longer work, or that the mills of God should grind whatever it has to grind immediately and without delay. The two parables of the kingdom that Jesus tells in today's gospel reading show us that these modern views of how God acts in us and in our world are mistaken. God's usual way of acting in us and in the world is slow, gradual and, more often than not, imperceptible.

The first parable, that of the Seed Growing Secretly (Mark 4:26-29) compares the reign of God to the imperceptible sprouting and growing of a seed that the farmer sows in the earth. Anyone who has raised crops or flowers knows that it is hard to notice the actual sprouting and growing of the seed, but every new day one wakes up from sleep to notice that some growth has taken place. This parable challenges those who think that God is doing nothing in the world to look more closely. God is very much active in our world and is leading the world to its appointed purpose, the time of harvest. On the other hand, it challenges those who expect God to intervene in our lives with immediate flashes of lightning and thunder to realise that God does not often act in such sensational ways. People who expect God to act with visible immediacy are like Elijah on Mount Horeb who expected to experience God in a hurricane, in an earthquake and in a fire (1 Kings 19:11-12), only to be disappointed. He was finally able to experience God in "a still small voice." God does not like sensationalism.

In the second parable, that of the Mustard Seed, Jesus compares the reign of God in the world to "a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade" (Mark 26: 31-32). Again it shows that the reign of God in the world begins very small, like a small mustard seed, which is almost invisible. In due course, however, it results in a big shrub to which the birds of the air come to make their nests. This parable challenges those who are reluctant to do small things. Many people are reluctant to plant a mustard seed. It is just so small that it is almost insignificant and negligible. The farmer who plants a mustard seed is the farmer who believes that no seed and no effort is insignificant in God's kingdom.

The two parables make similar points but it may help to apply the first parable, that of the Seed Growing Secretly, to how the kingdom of God grows in us, and the second parable, the Mustard Seed, to how the kingdom of God grows in the world through us. Understood in this light, the Parable of the Seed Growing Secretly calls for the child of God to be patient with his or her apparent lack of progress in the spiritual life. After years of commitment to the imitation of Christ, we often wonder why we are not yet saints, why we are not yet "perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). From year to year our progress in holiness may seem to be imperceptible. But, the Gospel assures us that so long as we abide in God, the seed of faith sown in us will continues to grow and bear abundant fruit for the harvest.

In like manner, the Parable of the Mustard Seed challenges us not to discount the little things we do for God. A mustard seed is a very small seed to sow but with time it becomes a great shrub that gives shelter to the birds. It encourages us to put more diligence in doing the little, everyday, seemingly insignificant things we do for the kingdom of God. At God's own time, those apparently insignificant things may bear great fruit to the glory of God.

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