|The mustard seed|
There is a TV commercial out currently for one of these small, fuel efficient cars that is quite good. The commercial begins with an executive in a board room saying “Big”. Then all those around the table begin to repeat “Big, Big, Big.” The next scene is a news anchor reporting, “Big, Big.” Then we are in Hollywood and on the stage is a singer belting out: “Big, Big, Bi-i-i-g!” All the wheels of the machine are turning in unison proclaiming “BIG”! Then the scene shifts to an office worker making copies at a machine and as he looks out the window this small car drives by and he says, “small”. Things stop. And a new chorus begins, “small, small, small.”
This dynamic can be found in today’s gospel reading (Mt. 23:1-12). The wheels of the machine in the Israel of Jesus’ day are turning. The chorus may not be saying “Big” per se but it is certainly humming “widen the phylacteries”, “lengthen the tassels”, “seats of honor”, “greetings”, “rabbi”. The noise is almost deafening (and crushing). Jesus hears it. And Jesus says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
The import of what our Lord does here is brought out when we look at what follows today’s gospel passage. In the remaining verses of chapter 23 Jesus list a whole series of “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” In chapter 24, Jesus talks about the end of days. Then in chapter 25 our Lord gives images of the Kingdom of Heaven and the final judgment. And in the third and fourth verses of chapter 26 we read; “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and took counsel together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.”
The words are indeed radical and revolutionary. “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
But we like “Big”; how might we come to recognize the beauty and the wisdom of “small”, of “humble”?
In his second volume of Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI makes a striking observation. As Christians we proclaim and we know the magnitude of the resurrection of Christ. We know that it is the defining point of all human history but the Holy Father writes this about the resurrection:
“Throughout the history of the living, the origins of anything new have always been small, practically invisible, and easily overlooked. The Lord himself has told us that ‘heaven’ in this world is like a mustard seed, the smallest of all the seeds (Mt. 13:31-32), yet contained within it are the infinite potentialities of God. In terms of world history, Jesus’ Resurrection is improbable; it is the smallest mustard seed of history.”
Big, Big, Big … small.
In Church circles today there is much talk about the “new evangelization”. A vision given to the Church in this new millennium by Blessed John Paul II. There are many grand visions of how this evangelization might look and take shape (and these might very well come to pass). But maybe the first part of this “new evangelization” at the threshold of this new millennium is to both recognize the mustard seeds, the improbable moments, of the Resurrection that are occurring around us and also help to plant and encourage these mustard seeds. As Pope Benedict reminds us, “the origins of anything new have always been small, practically invisible, and easily overlooked.”
And, individually, in our lives the way to cultivate the truth and the grace of the Resurrection is to cultivate the improbable mustard seed of humility. To be willing in the face of “Big” to say “small” and to live the wisdom of humility.
“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”