11th Sunday in Ordinary Time – June 14, 2015 – Planting Seeds of Faith and Courage
As you know the recent storms and at least one tornado in our region lifted enormous trees up from their roots. I wondered how can such large trees with presumably deep roots topple over? Experts explain that, in urban areas, roots in shallow soil struggle to take hold, they do not have the room to spread out, they decay.
Trees are important symbols of strength and comfort. Poets and painters love them. We name streets after them. Trees convey meaning in different religions. The Jewish Kabbalah explains God’s interaction with creation. It is called the Tree of Life. In Christianity the Christ of the universe is the cosmic carpenter and, historically, Jesus died on the tree of the cross. The mighty cedar of Lebanon in today’s first reading stands for the restoration of David’s kingdom after the exile. The branches refer to all the nations of the world.
The gospel, known as a kin-dom parable, offers a slightly different message. There are actually two seeds in this parable. The first one is a reference to the foundational ministry of Jesus. The kin-dom of God, although still not complete, continues to emerge ever so slowly. It manifests itself depending on how we respond to the Word of God in Spirit.
The second seed is the mustard seed. It grows into a shrub with large branches that offer shelter for birds of the sky. This image suggests there is room for every person, every kind of human being, in the enormous kin-dom of God. We believe, while only God is responsible for bringing the kin-dom about, we are partners with God in that effort.
Think of the opportunities we have to plant seeds on solid, fertile ground that will grow and bear fruit for a long time. For example, the seeds planted by the founders of our country. I am not referring to George Washington’s gardens at Mount Vernon or Thomas Jefferson’s arboretum at Monticello. Rather, consider the vision they and others had for a country rooted in the principle of equal opportunities for all — a vast nation that provides room and shelter for diverse peoples of all classes. Our American flag reminds us of their foresight.
Think of the seeds planted by Pope John XXIII, one of the saints written in our collection of icons. I am not referring to his recent canonization but his vision for the Catholic church. In his opening talk he boldly insisted the Vatican Two Council must allow the church to “dedicate itself resolutely and fearlessly to the task which our times require.” He called for using the “medicine of mercy rather than that of severity.”
Think of the seeds planted by the parents who are baptizing their children in this church today. I am not referring to the mysterious effects of this sacrament. Rather, think of the contributions that these children can bring to the world as they grow up among us inspired by the good work of their parents and whatever community will nurture their faith in the future.
There are many branches in our spiritual trees, many religions and ways of life. You and I are those branches. As members of God’s kin-dom on earth we provide shelter and sustenance for each other. Sometimes we sway uneasily in the winds of uncertainty but our faith and good work can steady us. Some of us break off from the tree in search for other fruits.
Paul challenged the people of Corinth to be courageous in their faith. It was the same message presented to the Israelites at the end of their oppressive captivity. They were urged not to return to the status quo of pre-Exilic times but to imagine brand new possibilities for living without fear without forsaking their traditions or their visions.
Faith can serve as a strong foundation to restore life to our families, societies and religions. However, that faith must grow. We can make all things new again not by returning to old rules but by planting seeds of hope in fertile ground so that strong branches of fruits and flowers can grow.
And, there is something else. Once protected within a forest, large tall trees become vulnerable and can fall down when left standing alone in a storm. The same is true with us.