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Mustard Seeds and Living Christian Faith in the Real World

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At Mass recently we heard an excerpt from Luke’s Gospel containing the Lord’s instructions to His disciples on the kingdom of God and what can be called a lifestyle of living faith. The excerpt follows after he admonished them to continually forgive their brother – no matter how often he offended them – if he repents. (Luke 17:4)
They are so shocked by the call to live such a way of radical mercy that they ask the Lord, “Increase our faith. The Lord replied, If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”Tomorrow, the instruction will continue, as we hear the passage which immediately follows:

Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’?

Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’?

Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’ (Luke 17:5-10)

Jesus invited the disciples to begin to live His Way of Life. He invites us to do the same. It is the same Jesus who asks. It is the same call.

As the beloved Disciple John reminded us in his Gospel, Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. (John 14:6) He gives us the example of this new way of life – and then, through His Saving Life, Death and Resurrection, – He gives us the grace to live it.

In choosing to respond to that grace, we enter into the mission of the Church to continue His redemptive work and prepare the way for His return, when He will complete that work.

Jesus Christ is not dead, but alive. He has been raised from the dead. He lives now, in and through you and me, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are members of His Body and He is the Head. Stepping this truth into reality involves deciding daily to enter into a lifestyle of living faith.

In Matthews rendering of this same parable Jesus uses even more images to communicate this truth to us:

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches. The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened. (Matt. 13: 31 – 33)

All of these images concern the spreading of the kingdom. They also bring home the new reality that comes from our discipleship, when we choose to cooperate with grace and live in the Real World. In the words of St. Jose Maria Escriva:

May Our Lord be able to use us so that, placed as we are at all the cross-roads of the world – and at the same time placed in God – we become salt, leaven and light. Yes, you are to be in God, to enlighten, to give flavor, to produce growth and new life. But don’t forget that we are not the source of this light: we only reflect it. (St. Jose Maria Escriva, Friends of God, 250)

As Christians we are called to love the world as God loves the world. (John 3:16) We are, in the words of the beloved disciple John, in the world as He is in the world. (1 John 4:17)

Because we live in Jesus Christ, He continues His redemptive mission in and through us.

God created us for Himself. He made us in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:27). He placed us within this created world with a purpose. God so love the world he sent His only Son into it to save it. (John 3:16). Jesus still walks in that world through His Body, the Church, and continues His Work.

Understanding and living this reality can change the way we view our very human existence, if we allow the grace of God to change us. As Christians we are invited into a new lifestyle. We can live our daily lives now in the Lord.

In a very real sense, we actually live in the Church and go into the world. One of the titles that the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council ascribed to the Church (found in the writings of the early fathers) is the “the world reconciled.

There is confusion in some Christian circles concerning our relationship to the world. Some of this confusion derives from the remnants of one of the early heresies in Christian history, Manichaeism. The followers of this error believed that matter was evil.

That is NOT a Christian belief. We profess in our Creed a belief in a bodily resurrection and the coming of a new heaven and new earth.

Yet the remnant of this error still hangs around. It can also be found in some misguided piety.

Sadly, it can also lead to a kind ghetto mentality wherein Christians attempt to withdraw from the world, in the wrong sense, by escaping everyday life. This can be further compounded when we do not distinguish between the ways the phrase translated “the world” is used in the New Testament.

There is the world that God created and looked upon and said it is good. (See e.g. Genesis, chapter 1). That world is still good. It is filled with beauty and reflects the Divine artist and architect who made it. That world He entrusted to the crown of his creation – man and woman.

Then there is a system, a culture of death and use, which has squeezed God out of His rightful place and substituted idols. That system is also called the world in the bible. (See, e.g. James 4:4). We are not to love that world, in the sense of giving ourselves over to its dominion.

We are to reject that system in order to free those enchained by its lies.

The Father wants to bring the entire human race back into a relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Christ. Those of us who now live in Christ are sent on that mission into the world.We are called to bring all men and women into the new world of the Body of Christ.

The power to effect redemptive change in the world comes from living faith. It involves recognizing the life of God within us, yielding to its transforming effects, and allowing Jesus Christ to live His Life in and through us.

Another image the Lord uses to communicate this truth is the parable of the leaven in the loaf (See, Matt. 13:33).

It is amazing how little leaven it takes to raise a loaf of bread. That is because within those little particles of yeast is found the power to ferment, to change the lump of wet dough into a loaf of aromatic, tasty, nourishing bread. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.

However, the power contained within that yeast is not activated unless it is mixed and kneaded into the dough. Once you work the leaven in, it is still hidden to the eye but how it transforms that loaf. So it is with Christians within human culture.

The power within us is the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead (See Romans 8:11). All we are asked to do is to mix it up. We have to get in the loaf. We must be in the world – where Jesus is – in order to be used to accomplish His ongoing work of redemption.

Leaven that is not used in time spoils and loses its capacity to ferment that dough; it must be active or it becomes useless. That leaven must be in the dough to effect its extraordinary change. So it is with all of us. We must be in the world to effect its transformation.

Once hidden in the loaf, leaven always raises the dough. It also takes human effort – it must be kneaded, worked into the loaf. So it is with our lives of faith. Faith is a verb, it must be exercised. By living in the heart of the Church in the center of the world, in an active lifestyle of living faith, we can help to bring the world back to God.

This kind of missionary mindset has fueled great missionary ages in the past and brought extraordinary changes to whole cultures. It will once again. However, it always begins one person, one grain of leaven, one mustard seed, at a time. When men and women say “yes” to Jesus Christ, he unfolds His plans in marvelous ways.

The Kingdom of God truly begins to be manifested.

When I was a young layman I was involved in what would become the Steubenville miracle. I followed Fr Michael Scanlan, TOR, to the College of Steubenville in Steubenville Ohio, before it became the gem in the crown of renewed Catholic Collegiate life now called the Franciscan University of Steubenville. I transferred to the College when it was morally bankrupt and on the verge of fiscal bankruptcy.

I became the leader of the first student faith household on campus, named after the Heart of Jesus. The households became a vital part of the vision the Holy Spirit gave to Fr Mike, a plan for renewing the campus by fostering a dynamic Christian Way of Life.

I also served as a leader in the lay community which formed around this wonderful Franciscan friar as he responded to the Lord’s call to him to rebuild the Church. He embraced a Catholic College, falling down in ruins because it had lost its soul, and with living faith helped to forge it into something new.

During those years I spoke a lot about having mustard seed faith. I used to try to emphasize the point of the parable by bringing a box of mustard seeds along with me. I would hold one up while I encouraged the listeners to respond to the words of Jesus in their own lives and watch how the power of the Kingdom of God broke forth.

At the end of my talks on mustard seed faith, people would regularly come up to me because they could not see the seed which I had held up. I would place a mustard seed in their hand. They could barely see it then as well. After all, it is but a spec.

That was the real point. That is still the real point.

Jesus is asking for our response to His invitation. The power comes from Him. It is amazing what the Lord does when we simply offer the little we have.

The late Saint John XXIII wrote, “Every believer, in this, our world, must be a spark of light, a center of love, a vivifying ferment in the dough: He will be so to the degree that, in his innermost being, he lives in communion with God. In fact, there can be no peace among men if there is no peace in each one of them.”

The Gospel asks each one of us to live a New Way of Life now, the Christian Way of Life. We can become light and leaven, salt and seed for a world in need of God’s grace. We are to be a spark of light, a center of love, a vivifying ferment in the dough. We are the mustard seeds planted in the field of a world waiting to be reborn – in and through Jesus Christ.



 

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