Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Ezekiel 17:22-24
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 92:2-3, 13-16
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Corinthians 5:6-10
Gospel: According to St. Mark 4:26-34
As we begin to get used to the so-called “new normal” and pray that it looks a lot like the “old normal” we allow ourselves to ponder all of the great things that this summer can offer to us on both a small and large scale.
Going back to Mass each week and partaking of the Eucharist – “the source and summit of the Christian life” – on a regular basis once again allows us to find our spiritual bearings. In addition, things like family gatherings, grad parties, and vacation trips are all back on the docket and remind us that we are meant to be social beings who are hard-wired to share food and drink, laughter and tears, hugs and handshakes.
All of these moments that we share with others are meant to be a foretaste of the Kingdom of God that we hope to enter when this life is over. In the Parable of the Mustard Seed Jesus speaks of this Kingdom of God in terms of this smallest of seeds. Anyone who has ever held a mustard seed in her or his hand – or has ever used whole grain mustard - knows just how miniscule a mustard seed it, and the use of it by Jesus is meant to give a sense of the lack of size and importance of the Church at Her beginning.
As everyone familiar with the parable knows, the mustard seed grows into a tree whose size belies that of its origins. Throwing some relatively easy math at the average size of a mustard seed and the average size of a fully grown mustard bush will render the conclusion that the mature bush will be over 200 billion times the size of the original seed. Since it is estimated that about 100 billion people have ever lived on our planet, then we’ve got a decent way to go for the Church, presently at about 1.3 billion Catholics, to reach full mustard seed growth.
These numbers can draw one to think about the incredible nature of Jesus’ statement in John’s Gospel that “in my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” Hopefully, there’s room for about 200 billion of us. But more importantly, this large family is under the constant and eternal care of our Father in heaven, and He cares for those in His house even better than we care for those who come to our house for a cookout or a dinner party.
In light of the beginning of summer, maybe this Kingdom of God/Mustard Seed image is a good one for us as we look at our nuclear and extended families. We want our homes to be seen as places where not only the number of people will grow – especially from generation to generation – but also where others will, like the birds in the parable, feel at home. You don’t have to recall the opening dinner scene in the movie Rudy to realize that in Catholic families there should always be room for a few more. Dads seem to be pre-programmed to want to throw more food on the grill and Moms are always happy to set another place or two and make unexpected visitors feel as if they were the guests of honor.
In Irish folklore Heaven is seen as a huge banquet, and, considering the notion of home and hospitality for which the Irish culture is known, that seems quite fitting. Good food, good conversation, good laughs, and a few hugs and kisses thrown in are what normal – new or otherwise – looks like. And let’s not forget to throw in some high quality mustard for good measure. After all, we don’t want to leave out the favorite condiment of the true Host of the Banquet.