While reflecting on the message of the parables in the first volume of his work on Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Emeritus Benedict writes this:
The time of Jesus, the time of the disciples, is the time of sowing and of the seed. The “Kingdom of God” is present in seed form. Observed from the outside, the seed is something minuscule. It is easy to overlook. The mustard seed – an image of the Kingdom of God – is the smallest of seeds yet it bears the whole tree within it. The seed is the presence of what is to come in the future. In the seed, that which is to come is already here in a hidden way. It is the presence of a promise.
Further on, Pope Emeritus Benedict will refer to the resurrection of Christ as “the smallest mustard seed of history” precisely because it was so improbable. Living as Christian disciples nearly two thousand years after the fact, we can – on the surface – find this statement to be counterintuitive. “What does he mean that the resurrection is the smallest mustard seed of history?” We know and we claim the resurrection to be the defining point of all human history yet Pope Emeritus Benedict is getting at an extremely fine point here. The resurrection of Christ is a seed and it is the smallest of seeds because at no other time in all of human history had the stone of the tomb been rolled away nor had any human person been resurrected to eternal life. In this “seed” death is conquered and the tomb is emptied! And the seed bears fruit!
The seed of the resurrection “bears the whole tree within it” and “is the presence of what is to come in the future”. The mystery of the Transfiguration (Mt. 17:1-9), which we reflect upon this second Sunday of Lent, is itself a foreshadowing and a glimpse of the fullness of what is to come!
Throughout Scripture we find that God is a gardener and has the patience and deliberateness of a gardener. In the account of creation itself we see that God plants all of creation and takes great delight in it. A little further on in Genesis – from this Sunday’s first reading – (Gen. 12:1-4a) we find that God chooses a people and plants them in human history. From the littlest seed of Abram’s faith, God will make a great nation …, from which all the communities of the earth shall find blessing. Centuries later, our Lord (a son of this great nation promised to Abram) takes Peter, James and John up on a high mountain and is transfigured before them. Moses and Elijah appearing beside him – Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets! It could be said that God has so cultivated creation and human history that now this “seed” who bears all of the fullness of the Kingdom of God within himself and who is indeed the fullness of what is to come in the Kingdom is brought forth and is preparing to die that we might have life!
Is it no wonder that those three disciples fall prostrate and are caught in fear at the enormity of the vision presented before their eyes? In any icon of the Transfiguration you will see that Peter, James and John are cowering, even turning away and hiding their faces. The vision terrifies in its magnificence, wonder and beauty! God is at work and in the transfiguration we are afforded the slightest glimpse of this work! …then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
So … what are we disciples of Christ in 2014 to do? I would say that the Gospel calls us to hold fast to this smallest mustard seed of history! In many ways the truth of Christ still remains small and perhaps it always will this side of history. Many people still scoff and deride Christ and his message, the violence of this world rages, fear and the constant message of “Save yourself!” abounds in our time. Yet, as Christians we hold to something different and by this we set our lives and our hope. I would also say that the Gospel calls us to train our sight by this smallest mustard seed of history. Christ is bringing about the Kingdom; God is at work healing his creation. The powers of the world desperately want to claim all our attention for fear that we notice what God is doing. When we recognize God at work, the powers of the world lose any and all illusion of authority.
Christians, turn toward the Transfiguration and away from the false illusions of our time! Hold fast to Christ and train your sight to the healing work of the smallest mustard seed of history!
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”