Saturday, June 16, 2012

We are, each one of us, sowers of the seeds of the Kingdom

A priest who was a bit “humor impaired” decided to attend workshop that promised to help equip priests better for their ministry.  One of the dynamic speakers, also a priest, began his talk deftly saying, “The best years of my life were spent in the arms of a woman!” The crowd was shocked! After an appropriate pause, he followed up by saying, “And that woman was my mother!” The crowd burst into laughter and the man delivered the rest of his talk, which went over quite well.   The next week, back in his parish, the priest decided he'd give it a try and use that joke in his homily.   He leaned into the microphone and said loudly, “The greatest years of my life were spent in the arms of a woman!”  Again, the congregation was shocked and the priest stared at them in suddenly confused silence and finally blurted out, “...and I can't remember who she was!”

You all know that, I, often, like to begin my homily with a joke.   We’ve all probably had the experience at one time or another of retelling something that we thought was really funny only to see it fall flat as a pancake the second time around.  When that happens, we usually respond with the standard comebacks: “I guess you just had to be there.” or “It loses something in translation.” or “You just don't get it.”

There are any number of factors that can make telling a good joke a flop – it depends on who is listening, how you tell it, if they know the references.  This can be especially true when there's 2,000 years between the telling: a distant time, an unfamiliar place, a completely different culture of people listening. And, I think to one degree that is what’s happening in our Gospel passage today.  Jesus is telling us a bit of a joke, but I didn’t notice anyone laughing.  It was a classic case of the flop.  And so, “I guess you just had to be there.”

So, what’s the joke?  Well, our Scripture readings help us to understand.  Our first reading today from Ezekiel gives us a majestic image as the prophet compares the Kingdom of God to the twig of a cedar tree which God plants and it grows up to be a huge tree that all the birds want to come nest in.  Certainly the people of Jesus time would be familiar with that reference and had that majestic cedar tree in mind, as Jesus made a comparison of His own.  We heard Him say, “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, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” Jesus even uses some of the same words as Ezekiel; the birds of the air nesting in its branches.  Yet He has changed Ezekiel's mighty cedar tree – a tree that can grow to as high as 200 feet – into a scruffy little mustard bush – best case scenario about 6 feet. That must be a joke, don't you think?

And that's only part of the joke! To get the other part we would need to be farmers, like many in Jesus' original audience, not the city-dwellers we are. We might understand better if it were told like this: the Kingdom of God is like dandelion seed, which, when sown into your lawn....” You see, much like the dandelion, mustard shrubs are weeds! Farmers spend a lot of effort to keep them off their soil. Jesus must have been smiling as He gave the people this image.

So, what’s the point?   The point is that we may want the Kingdom of God to be like the beautiful, majestic cedar tree, but the reality is that it needs to be a little closer to earth; a little closer to our reality.  The Kingdom of God needs to be persistent – ever try to get rid of those dandelions?  The Kingdom of God will not simply plant itself and take over the place once-and-for-all.  It will pop up over here, and then over there, and again over there.  And, we need to be the ones continually planting those tiny little seeds so that the Kingdom continues to make itself known in our midst.

We are the sowers of the seeds of the Kingdom of God.  We help to bring forth that Kingdom when we commit ourselves to Kingdom values – peacemaking instead of killing, forgiveness instead of vengeance, reconciliation instead of revenge, chastity instead of lust, justice instead of crookedness, generosity instead of greed.  The reminder is that we are called to be sowers of that little seed; to make our own personal contribution to the presence and the growth of God’s Kingdom; and our personal contribution is incredibly important.

Kingdoms don’t grow all by themselves. Even the Lord needs help with the growth of His Kingdom.  That’s why He gathered people around Him and gave them a mission and through the centuries they have handed that on to you and to me – it is a reality we call the Church. That’s why He wants us, here and now, to be involved in that mission, especially at home and in our communities. The seeds we sow in His name have enormous potential.  They are the moral principles we hold dear, the loving witness that we give, the faithful promises we make and keep, the needy people we help to raise out of poverty, injustice or despair. They are the prayers we say, the children we welcome into faith and relationship with Christ, the Holy Masses we celebrate, the hurts we forgive, the kindness we show, the family members, neighbors and even enemies we love. The seed can be all sorts of things – a listening ear, an encouraging word, a happy memory shared.

Our hope must be simply this – that the seeds we plant will take root and grow and the presence of the Kingdom of God will be realized more and more each day in our midst.   We are, all of us, sowers of seeds, builders of the Kingdom of God and honored to partake in this great and wonderful and majestic work of Christ.  And, that’s no joke.

Bring forth the Kingdom of God!

May the Lord give you peace.

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