“Growing up to become little ones”
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Make our faith greater.” 6 The Lord answered, “If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!’ and it would obey you.
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
At the beginning of our worship service you all received a seed of mustard: you can see it, touch it. It is small, round and smooth.
In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus often speaks of seeds: the seed is the Word of God, which the sower sows and which grows in the various fields; the seed is the Kingdom of God, which begins in this tiny little form and then becomes a large tree, a different reality for humanity. In today’s text, the seed is the symbol of faith, which the apostles claim in larger measure.
Word, Kingdom of God, Faith. Seeds. In today’s Gospel text, faith is closely connected to the Word of God, to the Spirit who creates and gives birth to new things and transforms our lives. Faith is connected to the Kingdom of God, a kingdom which comes in subtly, without calling too much attention. Like the small seed, he is among us. A quiet and subtle presence, which becomes evident and tangible only when it is recognized. One of the lepers who has been healed by Jesus recognizes it. The Kingdom is among us, apparently irrelevant as a grain of mustard, yet capable of transforming lives, transforming tears in gratitude, loneliness in community. Faced with the words of Jesus on the importance of forgiveness, the apostles, “those who are sent,” feel somewhat inadequate for the task. “Give us more faith!”. They know more faith, greater faith is needed to engage the great calling. I recognize myself in their bewilderment at this moment, as I prepare to take on the care of two communities and wonder how I will deal with the task. I also cry out: “Give me more faith Lord!”
Perhaps I am not alone in this request. Perhaps this is the request of our many churches in this historic time: give us more faith Lord, to resist, to listen to you without pretending to be right about you; to dare to continue believing; to have the courage to leave our safe lands and those habits which sometimes block us from moving forward.
And here is Jesus’ answer: a small seed, a mustard seed. A little faith is enough. The great faith, in the Gospels, is often found by the little ones, the ones that are excluded: the foreign mother who convinces Jesus to heal her child, the leper who goes back to give thanks after being healed, the Samaritan woman who becomes an apostle after speaking with Jesus. To them Jesus will say: “Great is your faith”. But for the disciples, for the people who already follow Jesus, who know his Word, who know that the reality of God is already present among us, a little faith is enough.
A faith that is not heralded, or imposed, a faith that does not rhyme with power: but rather is nourished in the soil of the community, plowed in the dirt of love, and grown by the communion and participations of sisters and brothers. It is a faith that is nourished by the water of the Word, the reading, the listening to, the sharing, and the embodyment of the Word into every day living. It is a faith that also knows how to nourish, just like the seed then becomes a plant and then a tree on which birds find shelter.
The disciples remain just that: disciples. They do not need to become important or believe themselves important. Their task – as it is ours – is to sow the seed, so that it can become a tree, and then to make the trees move! To do things that are considered impossible, like move mountains, or send sycamores into the sea. Faith displaces. By a little faith, a church would not be afraid to close their place of worship in order to join other sisters and brothers in worship somewhere else, like we did today. The small faith creates gardens on rooftops and shares them with people of all ages. Faith as small as a mustard seed knows that the future of humanity is written in the God’s Hope, in the new heavens and the new earth, which we are called to recognize and to spring forth.
A small faith is a faith that is not afraid of being in the dark, just like the seed, because it trusts in the Resurrection that follows the dark season. In fact, another way in which Jesus speaks of the seed, especially in the Gospel of John, is as a symbol of Resurrection. To live a faith as big as a mustard seed is to live in the certainty that it is already a tree. Not being afraid of losing our life means living in the certainty that Christ has already found us. The seed reminds us of our place in God’s creation: to be in relationship, with every person and everything and to recognize and give space to the Word of God to grow us like seeds, ready to be scattered and become nourishment for many. Just like the bread that is made from seeds, just like wine, which is made from seeds, just like the body of Christ which is made by us.