Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ
Homily for 11thSunday in Ordinary Time
Year B: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Ps 92; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34
St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
If the parables of Jesus are to be meaningful, we need to understand who Jesus really is. The modern idea of Jesus as a wisdom teacher or a peace prophet reduces all he says to poetry. Now, poetry is not wrong. But when Jesus talks about the kingdom of God, he talks about himself as the human person, in whom God is fully present; i.e. who also fully shares God’s essence and wants to offer each one of us part of God’s eternal life.
A starting point is to understand Jesus as the fulfilment of God’s promises in salvation history through the Jewish people. In our first reading from the Prophet Ezekiel, we heard, helped by imagery like shoot, branch and cedar, how God lets the Messiah, his anointed one, arise from Israel, the people he had chosen in advance as the place for his incarnation. We heard how the little shoot grows with God’s blessing. And although Jesus in today’s gospel uses the images seed and grain, he presents the same idea: God’s work begins in the small, unnoticed; and grows gradually, according to hisplan, with impacts for more and more. Impacts that renew reality: concepts like “fruit”, “rest”, “live in” and “shadow” all describe the new conditions for existence itself. Where fear of death is gone.
And God indeed choses to be born in a poor out-of-the-way corner of the Roman empire. The teachings, miracles, and finally execution, of Jesus are small margin notes in the official history, like the inexplicably empty tomb and the meetings of the relatively small group of disciples with the risen one. But the seed, the little shoot, changes everything, making God visible and inviting, despite our continuous resistance, growing into the large cedar of the Church where he continuously gives himself to us in preaching and sacraments, all over the world, at all times.
The Christian mission itself begins with the little seed planted by the travel of the Apostle Paul via Asia Minor to Europe, from where it then is spread all over the world. And look at the works of the saints, e.g. through the religious orders of the Church. A Francis of Assisi receiving the calling to renew the Church, an Ignatius of Loyola wanting to help souls in a confusing time or a Mother Teresa finding worship of Christ in serving the most lonely and sick. And so on. Everything starting in the small and hidden, which with time grows to big trees with large branches, filling space and time with God.
In the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus says he wants to work in similar ways in and through us. God alone decides exactly what kind of fruit we are to bear. And God has such a patience with us that he can wait for a half or a whole lifetime – in the responsorial psalm we heard that humans indeed can attain flourishing righteousness also “when they are old”! We do not need to bother about what heroic deeds we are to accomplish or when. Our main focus shall be how we best can allow Christ’s first gift of himself in baptism, the mustard seed, to really grow within us. Because our cooperation is needed. And that is why it often takes time for the seed to grow.
Dear Dexter, today, this gift will be given to you through the Church.
As the rest of us, you are born into a dysfunctional family, the human family, where we all have the inclination to try to be seeds on our own, making the own ego to God. An inclination having characterized us since the fall of the first humans, thus called original sin. Through becoming man in Jesus Christ, God offers a way out of this blind alley. Baptism, where we die and rise with Christ and are dressed in new life, is the entrance ticket to an eternal communion with God, where he out of love disregards our self-generated dysfunctionality and our continuous abuse of the free will he has given us.
But dear Dexter, the responsibility to keep your soil good for the mustard seed to grow in, now rests on the shoulders of your parents, your god mother and this parish, until you are old enough to take it on by yourself.
I hope we will show you that keeping the soil ready is a matter of regularly reviewing our spiritual everyday life and what we actually choose to take in. Do we set off time for daily prayer? Do we seek our own honour through the increasingly anti-social media, or God’s honour through Bible reading? Do we allow ourselves to be inspired by the example of the saints or by a spiritual book, instead of constant entertainment? Do we prioritize Sunday Mass and even a weekday Mass sometimes, when we plan our week?
I likewise hope we will show and teach you, dear Dexter, that it is also about our moral life, i.e. if what we do expresses the values of Christ, the mustard seed we have opened ourselves to receive through the sacraments directly and physically into our bodies; or if it expresses the values of myself and the social trends. This is what the Apostle Paul, in the second reading we just heard from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, means by pointing out that what we do with and through our “body”, i.e. our whole physical existence in the world, must be “pleasing him”, i.e. Christ.
What that in turn implies is explained by the Church, where God’s incarnation lives on and by Christ given a Magisterium with the authority to speak on his behalf at all times. The single moral rule of our contemporary secularist, liberal culture is that every action is good if one feels for it and does not directly hurt anyone else. But this makes us forgetting God’s plan and Jesus as mustard seed. What that mustard seed, God’s grace in Jesus Christ, wants to achieve in us is transformation and change – inus and therethroughour relations, near and far. Surely, God loves us as we are, created in his image. But he loves us more than, and too much for, wanting us remainexactly where and what we are. “All are welcome” – of course, but on Christ’s term, not our own, so that the mustard seed might grow.
Just as God on Christmas night places himself as a little, defenceless child in the hands of Joseph and Mary, he also places himself in our hands. Our way to care for him decides how his kingdom, Jesus Christ, through you, dear Dexter, and all of us, will be able to give real life to the world. In the eternity beginning right here and now, but continued and fulfilled, far more than our efforts ever can achieve, by God beyond space and time.