B: 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Small Things Matter

June 17, 2012

Mark 4:  26-34

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is again speaking in parables. Parables were Jesus’ favorite way of teaching. He used parables, because parables force you to think. You have to pause and use your imagination to consider how the kingdom of God is like two sons, or ten virgins, or a treasure found in a field. Today Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. Now what is he trying to say? Parables always have multiple meanings. Today I want to suggest to you one possible meaning of the parable of the mustard seed: Jesus is telling us that small things matter.

The parable is very clear on this. The mustard seed is the smallest possible seed. Yet, once it is planted, it grows into a sizeable plant that can give shade to the birds of the air. The mustard seed is very small, just a speck. It would be so easy to lose it or to ignore it or to discard it. But in doing any of those things, we would miss the opportunity to see how it would grow and what it would become. This lesson of the mustard seed is important, because we live in a culture that values what is big and impressive. We get excited about a new car or better clothes or the most recent laptop or smart phone. And we are so keyed into these big and impressive things that at times we overlook what seems to be less. That is unfortunate, because small things matter. They matter because God uses them, and they matter in two different ways. They matter in the actions that we do, and they matter in the things we receive.

As we live any day or our life, we should never discount the small things we can do: a word of love or support to our spouse, a few moments to affirm a son or daughter about something they are good at or something that they have achieved, a phone call to a friend who is grieving the death of a loved one, or even a thankful smile instead of a vacant stare as we approach the cashier in the supermarket. These are all small things, tiny things, things that could seem to have no significance. Yet they can be important because God can choose to use them to build up some person in our lives and to increase the goodness around us. We should never discount doing small things in the course of every day.

But neither should we overlook the importance of receiving small things each day. For each day there are people in our lives who give us signs of love and support. How much richer our lives would be if we were open to accept those signs and take them in: the smile of our 3-year-old as we come home from work, the person who breaks to let us into traffic, a friend who says to us, “How are you? How are you really?” All of these are signs that God is using to show us that we are loved and that there are reasons for hope.

Big and flashy things always seem important. But small things matter. Things as little as a mustard seed can shape our lives. We can be the farmer who plants the mustard seed or the soil that receives it—the giver or the receiver. In both cases small things like a mustard seed can make a difference. God uses the small things in our lives to build the kingdom of God.

God Is Still Working

June 14, 2015

Mark 4:26-34

We may feel stuck and our lives stalled, but God is still working. There may be a problem in our family we have tried to resolve time and time again, without success. So we begin to wonder, “Is there anything that can be done to fix it?” We may have experienced a deep loss or betrayal that brought our lives to a standstill, and although we try to adjust, to get back into the game, we cannot budge ourselves forward. We begin to think, “Will there ever come a time when I will be normal again?” We may have a hope or a dream that we would like to achieve, and we work at it. But possibilities do not materialize and opportunities evaporate. We are left wondering, “What else could be done?”

We can feel stuck or stalled, but God is still working. This is what Jesus is trying to tell us in today’s parable. A farmer takes a seed and places it in the ground. It begins to grow. Then he leaves to go back to his life, going to sleep and rising in the morning, day after day. Without his thinking or his direction the seed on its own produces the blade and then the ripe fruit. The growing seed in the parable is meant to represent God’s action in our lives. Independent of us, God is moving our lives to something good. Despite our doubts, frustrations, and failures, God is working in silent and secret ways to keep growth alive, to move us forward. So today’s parable reminds us that the good things in our life are not all of our own doing. Reconciliation, healing, and forward movement are often the result of God working behind the scenes. We do this and that, and we should. But it is when God acts that things become successful.

This is why we should always be ready. In the parable when the grain ripens the farmer wields the sickle at once because the harvest has come. We must be ready to act at once when the right time arrives. We may have been trying to make peace with a family member or a friend over and over again without success. But then something changes and God opens a door. We must be ready at once to walk through it. We may be stuck in our grief for months or years with no energy to move forward. But then there is a phone call and an invitation, and we hear God’s voice. We should be ready at once to say yes. We might have tried to solve a problem from every angle without success. And then a new opportunity emerges, and we know that it is God’s gift. We must be ready at once to accept it.

When we run out of options, when there seems to be no hope, today’s parable reminds us that God is still working secretly, bringing growth to our lives. This is why we must never give up, and we must always watch for God’s growth to mature. Because when it does, we must wield the sickle at once for the harvest has come.

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