One of my hobbies is gardening and I think I am pretty good at it! Here’s one example- as many of you will know, this is a peony. It’s the time of year when peonies bloom- they are over the top in terms of their beauty and profusion, with multiple blooms in any one bush.
I have taken time and care, nurtured my plant with rich soil, added fertilizer to spur growth and ensured just the right amount of water. I am proud of my gardening skills!
Jesus’ story for us today about the tiny but mighty mustard seed makes us think. Within the mustard seed, any seed, is contained all that is required for the seed to grow, to blossom and flourish. The Gospel reminds me that I have had nothing to do with producing that seed. When I think of my time and labour and my outsize pride and boasting, Jesus tells me that God does the growing, not me- “we sleep and we rise each night and day and the seed would sprout and grow- without us knowing how”- the earth produces plants with seeds sown by God.
I have accompanied my seed and my flower. I have tended to it, nurtured it, defended it from the elements and even befriended it, so it can accomplish what was intended by God. But God has done the growing. This miracle, so ordinary in the season, and so lovely in the product, reminds me that my role is important, yet secondary. I am not God.
As Jesus speaks to the crowd today and later to his friends, the disciples, not even Jesus would claim to be at the centre. Jesus continually points to God at the centre. Jesus is obedient and deferential to his Father until the end. To this point, He has lived a simple, humble life, with his friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus. He has embraced his role as teacher and guide, with the disciples beside him. He has reached out to all, embraced all and scorned the trappings of power and prestige.
When we see the beauty that surrounds us and all our marvelous accomplishments in our modern world, we are tempted to see ourselves as the sole architect. Jesus is inviting us today to be more modest and humble in our claims- to model our lives on him.
For when we position ourselves at the centre, when we would claim to be as gods, God’s design is not allowed to flourish. It becomes all about our project, our mission and our design.
It becomes all about me and the people I can attract to my circle. It becomes about those who I can attract to join me. And there, eventually, we have it – the “in” group and the resulting “out” group, “us” and “them”, the “converted” and the “unconverted”.
We have seen this mentality at work throughout history. Tragically our missionary church and the people within it viewed Indigenous Peoples as lesser peoples, in need of conversion, in need of assimilation to a Christian life and to dominant culture. Taking children from their families and subjecting them to a life of deprivation, pain and risk in the name of the gospel quite rightly outrages us today.
To those who say these patriarchal, colonial attitudes are remnants of history, we know that not only do their effects continue today in the form of intergenerational trauma, but also that we continue to be blind to new forms of oppression of Indigenous Peoples in the form of continuing institutionalization, whether through the foster care or criminal justice systems.
When we unthinkingly elevate ourselves and our group to the centre- substituting our mission for God’s mission, there are implications that unfold.
The hate crime that so cruelly struck down a London, Ontario family this week is fueled by Islamophobia. The attack is neither random nor new and is connected in every way to the same attitudes that underlie our treatment of Indigenous peoples- the dominant culture at best tolerating people who are different, at worst eliminating them.
And what about those who say that raising the pride flag in our Catholic schools is an affront to our religion? Are they saying that the student struggling with their very sense of self must subvert themselves and their promise in the interest of conformity and an intolerance to difference? What damage such intolerant attitudes inflict to God’s people.
Our hubris extends to the environment and all the creatures who dwell within it – we see the earth as ours for the taking.
Jesus warns us today against placing ourselves in the position of God. We are gardeners, whose role must be to tend to the seeds that God has planted and let them blossom according to God’s will. We can tend to one another, nurture each other’s growth, defend and befriend one another. But we must not be God to others.
Jesus asks us today to be on the leading edge of change, for we cannot escape the conclusion that human hearts outside of God make enemies of the other. When we watch unfolding tragedies and say “no more” and “not again”, the pattern still endures and emerges with another group suffering under our oppressive ways.
In Christ, our hearts are tamed and taught in the gentle and humble ways of peace, understanding and friendship. These are the ways that Jesus lived. His sacred heart reaches out to us today to imitate his compassion for one another.
“May the Christ of the humble mustard seed dwell in our hearts through faith so that we, rooted and grounded in love may have the humility to experience the love of Christ which surpasses all knowledge- that we may be ever quickened with the fullness of the Creators’ life.”
Reflection offered at St. Joseph’s Parish on 12/13 June 2021