A reflection on the readings of June 13, 2021 — the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches.” (Mk 4:30-32)
Never underestimate the power of small.
For example, it’s amazing to ponder that you and I, in the earliest stages of development, were 0.1 millimeter.
Or, have you ever thought about the fact that before the Big Bang, the matter of our universe was contained in a space smaller than the head of a needle; and yet, today, our universe contains billions and billions of galaxies. Each galaxy contains around 100 million stars, which means that there are around 1 billion trillion stars in the universe!
Never underestimate the power of small.
Our Lord Jesus understood this well, as we hear in today’s gospel parable. The mustard seed, Jesus tells us, is the smallest of all the seeds but it becomes the largest of plants. This, he says, is what the kingdom of God can be compared to. The kingdom of God, which is God’s reign, began quietly, imperceptibly. Our Lord’s birth was quiet and hidden, occurring in a stable in the little town of Bethlehem. The Holy Family lived a quiet and unassuming life. Jesus did not even begin his public ministry until he was 30 years old.
He started small when he did begin his public ministry, calling just twelve average men. And yet today, the Catholic Church exists in every part of the world, with over one billion members. The mustard seed of our Lord’s life, the mustard seed of the first twelve, has truly evolved into the largest of plants. This is why we should never underestimate the power of small.
Jesus entrusted the Church with the mission of spreading the kingdom of God, and the Church has done this for two millennia. But the way the kingdom spreads is very often analogous to the growth of the mustard seed. Think, for example, about St. Francis and St. Clare, St. Dominic and St. Catherine, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and St. Teresa of Kolkata: each of them received a call from God and lived it heroically. Even though the communities they founded started small, they eventually grew and spread; and they still exist throughout the world today. It’s the power of the mustard seed. It’s the power of small.
So what does this mean for you and me? Each of us is called to live in holiness and by doing so to spread the kingdom of God by being instruments of God’s justice, love, and peace in the world. We may, however, feel inadequate and wonder if it’s even possible to live in holiness, to be a saint, to be an instrument to spread God’s kingdom. How and where do we begin? Our Lord tells us today: we begin as the mustard seed begins. We being small.
To grow in holiness and virtue, we begin small. What does this mean? It means, first and foremost, that we work on our growing in our friendship with the Lord through daily prayer. And so to commit to praying more deeply, we begin with five minutes of meditation. Eventually we do ten minutes, and then fifteen minutes; we might even get to thirty minutes of quiet prayer each day. And from prayer flows the grace to live in virtue and holiness. And so we begin small by living the virtues in our daily lives. Small acts of love, kindness, and patience throughout the day: joyfully serving your spouse, giving extra attention to your children, doing your work well, letting someone go ahead of you in traffic, being patient with family and coworkers. As we consciously practice small acts of love, kindness, and patience each day, God’s grace increases in us. Virtue becomes stronger than vice. Our desire for holiness becomes stronger than our desire for sin. And it’s all because the seeds of God grace grow in us and eventually transform us more and more. The mustard seed of God’s grace, planted in our souls, becomes the large plant of a holy life, radiating God’s presence to others. This is how the kingdom of God spreads.
So, never underestimate the power of small. Begin today. Start small by giving yourself to daily prayer, and perform small acts of love, kindness, and patience throughout the day. The mustard seed will grow, and you will become a powerful force of God’s loving presence in the world.