“… [T]hrough it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.” Jesus uses the mysterious process by which a seed germinates and grows as an image of how the Kingdom of God grows. We live in the midst of many things, both natural and supernatural, that we cannot see or understand. For this reason, we continually “walk by faith, not by sight,” like St. Paul. Faith makes it possible for us to “see” what we cannot see. What we see with our eyes may appear to be no more than one tiny seed, at first glance insignificant and perhaps even of no value at all. But today’s readings invite us to look at this tiny seed again with eyes of faith, so that we can “see further, especially beyond appearances, in order to discover the presence of God who as humble love is always at work in the soil of our life and that of history,” as Pope Francis says in this week’s Spiritual Reflection.

When it comes to seeds, we do not expect to see everything that is going on within them. Planted beneath the surface of the earth, we cannot even see the seed itself, much less the marvelous changes that take place within it. If we force our way into the process, if we dig up the seed and break it open to see how it grows, our interference destroys the whole thing. We prevent the very growth we are so eager to understand. When we humbly accept the process of the seed growing “of its own accord,” we can go about our usual business, and “sleep and rise night and day,” confident that it will eventually break forth and produce a beautiful flower, shrub, or tree.

This confidence is trust in God, for God is in charge of creation. He is the Lord of all life, directing every creature to develop as he has designed it – even if we “know not how.” As we read in today’s passage from the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord is the one who determines the outcome of each plant’s life: “I, the LORD, / bring low the high tree, / lift high the lowly tree, / wither up the green tree, / and make the withered tree bloom. / As I, the LORD, have spoken, so will I do.”

The Lord’s message through Ezekiel is not a lesson on divine agriculture. The “plants” that the Lord is most concerned about are the people he has created in his own image. Today’s Psalm makes this clear. The “palm tree” and the “cedar of Lebanon” are images of the just men and women who flourish because they are “planted in the house of the LORD.” When we live according to the will of God, under the watchful care of his providence, we grow spiritually “vigorous and sturdy,” and we “shall bear fruit even in old age.” In other words, the weaknesses that we are well aware of, due to our limitations, littleness, and human frailties, are not what determine our growth and fruitfulness. We belong to the Lord, who sees the vast potential of even the smallest mustard seed, and he desires that we bear much fruit. So we pray in the words of the Psalm: “Lord, it is good to give thanks to you!”

Baptism immerses us in the mystery of the hidden, powerful life that comes from God. We can say that through this great Sacrament we have been “planted in the house of the LORD.” We can also affirm that a “seed” has been planted within us: the seed of faith. We cannot see very well the inner life of this seed, which often appears weak and tiny, like a mustard seed. We do not know exactly what its growth will look like or when it will produce its fruit. But we can be sure that this seed of faith has its own inner power to bear much fruit.

The Lord invites us to cooperate, with confident trust and humble patience, with his life-giving Spirit, for it is he who makes the seed which he has planted grow and bear fruit. Together with the Lord, under his guidance, we work hard for his glory and for the growth of his Kingdom. Our spiritual growth is much more important than the growth of a single seed under the earth! God himself, in his perfect timing, accomplishes his work through us, bringing to completion his perfect plan of love. How blessed we are to take part in it!

All the while we look forward to harvest time, when, as St. Paul reminds us, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.” Love moves us to do what is good and to avoid evil. Love is what produces the best fruit, as we welcome the seed of faith, nurture it, and allow it to flourish.

What does the growth of a small seed planted under the earth teach me about the growth of my own spiritual life? Why do I sometimes not welcome the plan of God for my spiritual growth? What is my personal experience of walking by faith, not by sight?

Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 20, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.