In today’s gospel we hear Jesus speaking about the power of an idea; and in this case, not just any idea, but a divine idea. That idea is the kingdom of God.
And being a divine idea; something that resides in the mind of God, makes it different from a human idea. Human ideas have the potential to be realized. Having the idea of building a dog house, and then actually doing it brings it to realization, for example. But if you never get around to building it; then it’s just an idea.
With divine ideas, they don’t just exist in the abstract, not just as a thought; they are realities because God is the very ground of all reality. The name of God, being “Yahweh”, which is Hebrew for “I am” tells us that God is being itself. Whatever is of God, is; it’s real, it’s true. It cannot be fiction or fantasy.
We as human beings then can experience this reality through God even if it is not fully present to us here in this fallen world of sin and death. It is an example of the “already/but not yet” concept that runs through the Church’s theology; that God is both transcendent, an overarching force in history and somewhat inaccessible, yet is also imminent and intimately close to us all in the present moment, that He is both remote in the heavens and incomprehensibly near is the dichotomy around which our faith is built: a contradiction that is reconciled in our experience of God.
And we do well when we remember that as much as our God is the God of being, that Hebrew name captures something else. Hebrew grammar is rather ambiguous in how it expresses the present and the future. So, God’s name can mean “I am” but also “I will be.” So, a God both of being and becoming; of a present reality, but also of incredible potential.
When Jesus likens the kingdom of God to a field of wheat, it is in that sense that a field of wheat is a field of wheat from the time it is planted; it’s a field of wheat when the first green shoots break the surface of the soil; it’s a field of wheat when the stalks are tall and swaying in the wind, the heads of grain full and ripe. All through that, it’s a field of wheat, it is, but it is also in the process of becoming; becoming in the mystery of life as grows and matures toward the time of harvest. That is the Church when it is being the Church; and because of our Catholic understanding, that is humanity when it is being most human. We are called to be Holy now, but that is a holiness that is to grow in dimensions we cannot imagine, a sanctity that is something more than piety and service, but rather something more that grows from a life of prayer and love of neighbour into what cannot be anticipated, imagined, but is promised to be wonderful.
That “more” will prove astonishing.
When Jesus talks about the mustard seed, that’s what he’s getting at: our expectation of what will come of its planting.
I remember once hearing a rather earnest preacher trying to explain the parable of the mustard seed and clearly missing this. He was concerned that in fact a mustard plant is a rather modest thing. Pretty remarkable that so tiny a seed gives you a mustard plant; but this preacher was at pains to explain that in the Holy Land, mustard plants are so much bigger; and so, their growing from a tiny seed was indeed pretty impressive.
I’ve never been to the Holy Land, but I’ve seen pictures of these mustard plants, and they’re not huge. Little birds, maybe one or two, can perch in them, but they are hardly what Jesus describes as something with large branches that birds can nest in.
No, the point of what Jesus is saying is that we can find that mustard seed remarkable for being so small, and the idea of the kingdom of God can seem pretty insubstantial set against the powers of the world. Our expectation in planting the seed is that we’ll get a nice little plant; but Jesus says don’t have such modest expectations of the kingdom of God once it is implanted in you. You’ll be as surprised as if you planted that mustard seed, expecting the little plant and then finding it has grown to be ten times its usual size, with big branches, with birds nesting in it. Again, it would be like planting a sunflower seed, and finding it growing to the size of a hundred-year-old oak tree. The kingdom of God will surpass your expectations.
I don’t think this is fantasy.
Consider how bad ideas have spread in the course of human history. Bad ideas that gave us the Soviet Union and Maoist China, and so decades of human misery and cruelty on a massive scale. Bad human ideas that generations tried to implement by violence were at last seen as the fantasies they always were, and the pretense of their validity was abandoned in Russia; in China, they’ve tried to modify them to accommodate the human desire for freedom by channeling that impulse into a corrupted form of free enterprise. We see in North Korea the nightmare of their full application.
Consider then the kingdom of God and its times of flowering; the Church that transformed the bloody empire of Rome into an agency of sanctity; that went beyond the borders of the empire to the lands of barbarity and turned them into kingdoms where the measure of kingship was not in how much plunder you could amass by war, but in the safety you could give your people, so that they might flourish through agriculture, industry and commerce governed by good law and not a tyrant’s whims.
But today I don’t want us to get too lost in consideration of the great sweep of history. We need to think of the here and now of this parish, and of our immediate circumstance, but with an eye to the future.
We have been devastated by the past year’s events. I know that many have been traumatized, grown fearful of their fellow man seeing in the men and women and children around them vectors of infection, threats to one’s health and life. The rebuilding of the parish will be hard work, and when I first came, I said we had a task of rebuilding. How much more that is true now!
But remember this: the kingdom of God is here. Perhaps just so many seeds planted, indiscernible beneath the surface of the soil, yet to germinate; but that is the kingdom; but we have green shoots growing upward too: the Compassionate Care Ministry for one; the rebuilding of the Eucharistic visitors’ ministry underway; the revival of the youth group under new and enthusiastic and very capable leadership. Our music ministry is getting a look over because we see challenges ahead, and I believe sacred music is a powerful vehicle of reconnection to God for many. Our newly renovated parish centre, this recently redone church, all hold such potential that we need to find a way to better manage them, maintain them, update the facilities and promote their use to evangelize, create Christian fellowship, celebrate God in thanksgiving. This is the kingdom of God.
We are already manifesting the kingdom of God; what will we be a year from now, five years from now? We will be the kingdom of God, here in Dundas, but in a way we likely had not imagined or believed possible.
And we must remain confident in that knowledge. As St. Paul tells us, “for we walk by faith, and not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence…” because through faith we live in that blessed kingdom and know its reality, and show the world it’s not just another idea, but the real thing.