Saturday, June 16, 2018

Some people just can't tell a joke


A young man considering a vocation with the Franciscans was invited to dinner at the local friary one evening. As dinner went on, from time-to-time, one of the friars would stand up and say a number and the rest of the friars would laugh hysterically. One stood up and said, “72,” and everyone laughed. Another said, “149,” and again everyone laughed. Another said, “14,” and again, everyone laughed. Confused, the young man asked what was going on. “Well, you see, we’ve all lived together for a long time,” one friar said, “By now, we know each other jokes by heart, so we numbered them all to save time. Someone says a number and we remember the joke and laugh,” then he said, “Why don’t you give it a try. We have 300 jokes, just stand and say any number you like.” The young man stood tentatively and said, “107,” and there was nothing but silence. The man sat down and asked what went wrong. He said, “What can I tell you? Some people just can’t tell a joke.”

I was thinking of this today because I think there’s something like this going on in our Gospel. I think Jesus is telling us a bit of a joke, but I didn’t notice anyone laughing as I read it today. It was a classic case of the flop.

So, what’s the joke? Well, as we heard in the Gospel, Jesus asks the familiar question, “To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God?” Now if you think about how you might answer that question, most of us would probably choose something amazing to compare the Kingdom of God to. We might choose, for example, the image we heard in our First Reading from Ezekiel – the great and mighty cedar tree. This is an image that is used over and over again in the Old Testament and cedars are mighty trees. They were large and strong, they soar into the sky as high as 200 feet. Standing at their base it might feel you could climb them all the way to Heaven. Certainly a worthy comparison to the Kingdom of God.

But, instead of something so majestic, Jesus said, “It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.” And, I think this is his joke. Instead of a mighty cedar, Jesus is essentially comparing God’s kingdom to something like a weed; that’s what the mustard bush was after all. We might understand better if it were told like this: the Kingdom of God is like dandelion seed, which, when sown into your lawn will drive you crazy all summer long!”

As always, though, Jesus is telling His little joke to make a much bigger point. The point is that we may want the Kingdom of God to be like the beautiful, majestic cedar tree shooting all the way to Heaven itself, but the reality is that God’s Kingdom needs to be a little closer to earth; a little closer to our reality. How many of us have seen a 200 foot cedar tree? Not many. And how about those dandelions? Just about everyone. The Kingdom of God needs to be persistent – as persistent as we must be to rid of our lawns of dandelions. The Kingdom of God will not simply arrive and remain forever. 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 of the Kingdom so it becomes present in our world. We are the dandelions of the Kingdom that God wants popping up here and there and everywhere.

We help to bring forth that Kingdom when we commit ourselves to Kingdom values – peacemaking in the face of conflict, offering forgiveness instead of vengeance and retribution, justice in the face of corruption, generosity instead of the overwhelming greed in our world. We are called to be sowers of that little seed of the Kingdom, that seed of faith; to make our own personal contribution to the presence and the growth of God’s Kingdom.

Kingdoms don’t grow by themselves. Each one of us counts. The seeds we sow in God’s name have enormous potential. They are the 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 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 and forgive. The seed can be all sorts of things – a listening ear, an encouraging word, a happy memory shared. And it is our job to plant those seeds here, there, and everywhere; over and over and over again.

My friends, the seeds we plant will take root and grow and the presence of the Kingdom of God will be more and more in our midst if we remain persistent in spreading them. And, that’s no joke. Bring forth the Kingdom of God!

May the Lord give you peace.

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