Reflections from Fr Claude

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In today's Gospel, Jesus describes the hidden growth of seeds. One wonders if he had an outrageous sense of humour or had no clue about farming as mustard sabotages whatever crops are in its path. But the parable is meant to stimulate our curiosity and upend preconceptions.  It is about the reign or ‘reigning of God’ which has no geography takes over like an invasive weed because it is a force or power inherent in and permeating creation and God’s reign occurs out of sight of the powerful.

Like the seed, its growth is hidden is hidden, secretive and mysterious, until bursting into the open. The shrub in the gospel is annoying because it is hard to control. Where people expected a great show of power, for Jesus God’s reign will grow from the smallest of beginnings. Those who see things from the point of view of power and privilege consider it insignificant and of no account until like a ‘weed’ it spreads out and disrupts the status quo. Beneath the surface, out of sight of the powerful, God’s reign is growing among the marginalised, the silenced and rejected as in many places people are finding their voices against violence, oppression, and corruption. Growth is happening deep in the soil of discontent. God’s disrupting reign breaks through leaving the unjust and powerful surprised when God’s reign emerges from those they despised and rejected. Clearly the parables intend to mess with our assumptions and subvert things rarely questioned. Rather than trying to understand them, we are meant to experience them.


Building a more just, loving, Christ-like world is long-term. In Ezekiel, uses the image of a great tree and sapling pointing to the injustice of the day with the gap between the ‘high’ and the ‘lowly,’ where the ‘high’ will be brought low and ‘lowly’ lifted up. Ezekiel depicts God’s action in the world in terms of images of tall cedar trees which were images of Israel’s future greatness. God says, ‘I (Yahweh) will take from the crest of the cedar, from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot, and plant it on a high and lofty mountain; on the mountain heights of Israel, I will plant it.’ This image contrasts with that of the mustard seed.  It might seem that Ezekiel and Jesus had low expectations, but God is content to work with a few courageous people. This small shoot (small group of people) will grow into something the old tree could never produce. This points to the need for the destruction of old institutions that are not life-giving and begin anew. But we need to start small.


Mark’s community was being persecuted. As well as being physically threatened it was plagued by the doubts arising from unmet expectations. Jesus’ preaching about the reign or ‘reigning’ of God was more ordinary than what his contemporaries hoped for. They believed they would flourish like the big trees, but the realities on the ground raised serious misgivings. What some determine to be junk, God identifies as redeemable, and transformative. It is so ordinary; it may not even be noticed. That is why Jesus calls us to pay attention, to train our eyes and ears on this kingdom because it is everywhere. Robert Farrar Capon says, ‘for every second of time the world has been the world, it has also been the kingdom [of God]. The world’s progress through history isn’t a transition from nonkingdom to kingdom; rather, it is a progress from kingdom-in-a-mystery to kingdom-made-manifest.’  If God is present in this place, then so is God’s Reign. If God is present then Jesus’ new community will be seen as a weed-like-threat where nonviolence, mutual aid, and resource and wealth redistribution threaten the privileged, powerful, and propertied. First century farmers viewed the mustard plant the way Jesus’ teachings and the early community were viewed by the privileged and elite - and so needed to be weeded out. They were as welcome in society as weeds are in a garden, e.g., LGBTIQA+ people; student encampments; whistle-blowers, etc. The parable upends our predispositions where Jesus’ teaching led to justice, liberation, and societal peace expressed in distributive justice for all. It is so easy to misclassify life-giving justice work to be feared or denigrated. What was seen as a weed was actually a tree of life. We see that particularly in the Philippines where community leaders, teachers, lawyers, religious being in solidarity with people unjustly treated are ‘red-tagged’ or considered terrorists. Those committed to carrying on Jesus’ ministry can be regarded as ‘radicals’ even by fellow Christians. Mark calls us to trust that another dynamic is at work even in moments of powerlessness and ‘hold our ground’ and plant whatever seed we have. In helping his community stand strong amid chaos, Mark wants them to believe that something was geminating, out of sight, yet very near to them. Paul says, ‘We walk by faith, not by sight.’ This is needed for any community, though not persecuted, that is disillusioned by its leadership that does not listen to it or ignores it. Stephen Mattson, in The Great Reckoning: Surviving a Christianity That Looks Nothing Like Christ reminds us that wherever Christianity becomes socially acceptable, it can lose the ability to bring about the changes Jesus intended his followers to implant in the world around them. 


True growth is often imperceptible. We can be left stunned, depressed, and powerless seeing so much suffering. Building God’s reign, being in solidarity with others, comes through the hearts and actions of ordinary people. In the quest for justice, peace and love in our world, results can be difficult to see, and our efforts seem futile. We might question what we can do to improve things as political and religious leaders fail to effect changes toward a more dignified, human, and cohesive society. But it is only in the involvement and engagement that we realise so many people (people of faith and no faith) also sowing seeds for a new humanity.


The struggle for justice, unpalatable for many, cannot allow us to sit on the fence or blame the victims of unjust systems and institutions as is the case with Palestinians, the homeless, the unemployed and asylum seekers. The poor, the persecuted, the oppressed and persecuted are besieging the gates of the rich, demanding to be admitted. At the moment, Australia refuses humanitarian visas for Palestinians. We give them tourist visas without social support because we do not want them to stay. We are drowning in bad news - with news of hatred, wars and threats of wars, ignoring pleas by asylum seekers and turning away from people at risk of drowning, and the violence against God’s creation. God is calling to us through them. We are called to sow small seeds of a new humanity. Jesus does not speak of big things. God’s reign is, as we see in the mustard seed, very humble and modest in its origins.  It can go as unnoticed but has the potential to grow and bear fruit in an unexpected manner.


Let us appreciate little things and small gestures. We are called to put a little dignity, a little compassion, a little more justice, into each corner of our little world. Kindness towards a person in trouble, a welcoming smile for a lonely person, an invitation to a neighbour or stranger to visit, a listening ear for someone in despair, in depression, or struggling with mental illness might not seem to be big things or heroic - but they are. These are the seeds that build up God’s reign – the seeds of a new humanity. A favourite quote is from Micah 6:8: (God) has told you, what is good; and what God requires of you: act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God. In a commentary on this verse, the Talmud says: Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Walk humbly now. Do justly now. Love mercy now. You are not expected to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.


It is painful to look around at the scale of need in our world knowing that most of us can fill only a tiny part of that need. But since we know that each person has untold worth in the eyes of God, we trust that whatever we do to help even one person does have value and builds the reign of God.  We do not have the luxury of giving up. All our efforts mean something. Ultimately, God is the one who will grow life, ever so patiently, from tiny seeds and little branches. We can opt for a world where some flourish like the cedar tree but conceal desperate inner rot, misery, and nihilism.  Or we strive for a world with room for everyone, where people are prioritised. Do we follow the example (or not) of those our culture despises and rejects? Whether we live in a culture that seems like a mighty cedar or one that resembles the weedy mustard bush, we can choose the direction to take.


Dear God,

make us unexpected agents of change

for the world around us.

Remind us that faith is not

remaining content with the way things are,

but catching your vision of the way things can be.

Give us courage in the present.

Empower us to speak

when the odds appear against us.

And grant that we may see

the surprising results that can come about

when unexpected people bring about

unexpected transformation.



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