In the Garden of Eden, when the snake tempted Eve, he told her that, if she and the man ate the forbidden fruit, they would be “like gods” (Gn 3:5). This must have sounded very desirable to her, because we know that she then did take the fruit and eat it, as did the man.
Ever since that tragic act of disobedience, all humanity has been tempted by the same thought: we want to be like God. And when we think of what it would mean to be “like God,” we think of power and glory. We think of big things, great accomplishments, wonders which would be acclaimed by all. We can see this desire in ourselves whenever thoughts like this arise in our minds: If I were the boss, I would …. If I were in charge …. If I controlled the money …. In the hidden depths of our hearts we even criticize God, saying, If I were God …. If I had the power, the authority, I would do things better. We dream of being great and of doing great things.
How surprising, then, that the true God does most of his work, not with great displays of power, but in small, hidden ways. Thus he humbles all human pride. He redefines our very notion of greatness. In the Scripture readings throughout this week, he shows us that he chooses to plant his life in us, and in the world, in ways that are most insignificant to our eyes, using the smallest things, the hidden and the lowly. And he does this in ways which we do not fully understand and which we cannot control.
Jesus teaches his disciples this truth in today’s Gospel, using two parables about seeds. In the first one, he emphasizes that, once the seed is sown, it sprouts and grows day after day and the man in the parable “knows not how.” In the second parable, Jesus emphasizes the smallness of the mustard seed. What could ever come from such a tiny thing, especially after it has been planted in the ground, in a sense buried and left for dead? And yet it brings forth abundant life in the form of a large bush.
Similarly, in the first reading we see that it is God who selects the “tender shoot” and plants it on a high mountain. From there the small shoot grows into a mighty cedar which branches out and bears much fruit, giving shelter to birds who dwell beneath it. God raises up the lowly tree and brings low the high tree. This prophecy reveals that God is in charge, and that human pride and striving for glory will only end in frustration.
The seed of God’s life in us is planted in small and hidden ways, but it has the power to grow into something exceedingly great. It can transform us into the very likeness of Christ! This is all done by the grace of God. It is his work, and we do not fully understand how it happens. But there are things that we need to do in order to cooperate with his grace. These are ways that we “water” the seed—we nourish the growing life of God in us. As we do this, we also plant the seed of God’s Kingdom in the world and help it to grow.
Pope Francis speaks of all this in the Spiritual Reflection for this week: “The authenticity of the Church’s mission does not come through success nor through the gratification of the results, but by going forth with the courage of trust and the humility of abandonment to God, going forth professing Jesus and with the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the awareness of being small and weak instruments which, in God’s hands and with his grace, can accomplish great deeds, advancing his Kingdom which is ‘righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Rom 14:17).”
God tells us through the prophet Ezekiel: “As I, the LORD, have spoken, so will I do.” If we take God at his word, believing that he will do what he says, then we can have the courage which St. Paul speaks about in the second reading. We do not need to see how God brings about his plan. We can say with Paul, “We walk by faith, not by sight.”
From the Gospel we learn that Jesus spoke only in parables to the crowd, but to his own disciples “he explained everything in private.” To which group do we belong: the crowd or the disciples? Do we come to Jesus out of shallow curiosity, listen for a short time and then walk away in search of something else? Or do we truly seek to follow him closely day by day? If we come to him faithfully day by day in prayer, he will “explain” everything to us in private, in the secret of our hearts. Not that we will understand everything, but that he will show us the truth of his way and confirm us in living as he teaches us to do.
Let us close by taking Pope Francis’s prayer for our own today: “May the Virgin Mary help us to be simple, to be attentive, to cooperate with our faith and with our work to develop the Kingdom of God in hearts and in history.”
What areas in my life do I dream of being great and doing great things, wanting to be “like God”? Can I relate to the fact that human pride and striving for glory will only end in frustration? Do I come to Jesus out of shallow curiosity or to truly seek to follow him closely day by day?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.