GREAT THINGS BEGIN SMALL: HOMILY FOR THE 11TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B)
Life actually begins from the simple to complex forms. This can be seen both in human beings, animals and plants. In all these phenomena tiny seeds either mate or mutate to bring forth life in their simple forms which are open for further development and growth to complexity. Hence a woman does not give birth to a man or a woman but to an infant that eventually matures into a man or a woman.
Today the first reading and the gospel both speak about seeds. I am drawn to talk about seed as the inception of life. I wish to talk about seed also as the root of great things following the words of our Lord in the gospel today about the mustard seed which though the smallest of the seeds germinates and grows into a great tree with accommodative branches for birds of the air. Life is generally dependent on seeds. Seeds are little but what comes out of them in form of harvest are enormous. Of course the harvests are always greater than the seeds planted. One grain of corn can brings forth two or three strands of maize. It is also worth noting that a seed requires a fertile soil to germinate and to produce abundantly. A good seed would thus need a good soil; if either is deficient the outcome will be a depreciated harvest.
Most people in life have not been able to rise to even to the average level of livelihood because they do not appreciate the fact that great things begin small. Many who have the intention of becoming successful businessmen and women wish to start with a big capital, big shops, large number of employees, and so on. Often such people experience great setbacks before the first anniversary of their enterprise. If we take a cue from history we will find out that this reality runs in the universe. Let us begin with biblical examples:
- Abraham whom God made the promise of being the father of a great nation came from the then small insignificant pagan city Ur of the Chaldeans (Gen. 11:28, 15).
- Joseph who became a prime minister in the palace of Pharaoh was a prime suspect awaiting death sentence. (Gen. 39:20; 40:41-45).
- Moses who later became the instrument of liberation for the people of Israel from Egypt was salvaged from the riverside by the daughter of Pharaoh (Ex. 2:5).
- David the youngest of the sons of Jesse was finally chosen and anointed the king of Israel. (1 kings. 16: 11-13). The smallest became the greatest.
- Most of the Judges and Prophets were men and women of little worth, but the little in them became great and helpful for the entire nation.
- Our Lord Jesus Christ came from the small and insignificant town of Nazareth to become the saviour of the world. Of course we are familiar with the saying: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth”. (John 1:46).
These are not the only biblical examples. In any case let us cite some extra biblical examples of individuals who made it in life starting small. Brian Tracy did say that: “80% of millionaires are self made”. That means they started out almost penniless; with nothing. There are so many examples like David Murdock, Ralph Lauren, Ken Langone, Oprah Winfrey, Thomas Peterffy, Dan Abraham, Howard Shultz, and even Aliko Dangote of Nigeria. Beyond individuals, small groups that are organized have shown the power in small things. If you cue into history, you will find organized minority groups giving tough moments to disorganized majority. References can be seen in groups like the Nazi, Al queda, Boko Haram etc.
Behind these achievers one could detect ambition and energy. Furthermore as Dan Abraham would say they have three things moving them: perseverance, perseverance and perseverance! Evidently one of the little secrets of success in any undertaking is: “never to quit until you finish”. Actually winners never quit but quitters never win! This disposition to remain steadfast and never quitting is the functional aptitude of a seed planted on a good soil. Our Lord Jesus Christ exemplified this when he admonished about discipleship that: “No one who puts his hand on the plough and looks back is worthy of the kingdom of God” (Luke 9: 62).
We will at this point get back to the first reading and the gospel reading to situate our reflection more concretely. In the prophecy of Ezekiel (17: 22-24) God promised that he will take a twig from the cedar tree and plant it on the mountain and it shall grow, bear fruits and be a place of comfort for the birds of the air. In the gospel reading (Mark 4: 26-34), our Lord likened the kingdom of God among other things to a mustard seed which though small grows to become a great tree with comfort rooms for the birds of the air. From the two readings we discover that the seed and the twig (as in the first reading) are at first small tender and vulnerable. They could at most be neglected. The power is not actually physical, hence it lies within them and they begin to manifest their innate potentials when they are planted on a receptive soil.
In a sense we are connected with this parabolic seed. Left alone we are nothing; we are small, fragile, vulnerable and even powerless. But through baptism we are united with Christ and it is through this union; as in being planted on a good soil,that we grow, mature and become big solid tress. It is not surprising then for St. Paul to say that he can do all things through Christ who gives him strength (Philippians 4:13). There is yet another important issue here, the tree that eventually comes out of the small seeds bears fruits and also accommodates all kinds of creatures. As Christians we are highly expected to bear fruits, we are also expected to be charitable and accommodating. If God has given us increase we are expected to give others increase. We have seen that businessmen and women could start small with little or nothing and become renowned millionaires in the secular world, why won’t you and I, who are supported by divine power and grace not be able to grow in all ramifications? Often we lose sight of the fact that God is with us.
Some of us are so sure of failure more than they trust in the power of God to lead them to the next level. This is entirely offensive to God. No wonder the letter to the Hebrews would say that it is impossible to please God without faith. (Heb. 11:6). What God requires is your faith no matter how small it may seem. (Mark. 11:22). You may find yourself small in the midst of those you consider great. You may be feeling that one good thing or the other, one success story or another cannot come to a small person like you. Remember that those great men and women out there were like you and you can as well make a difference. Remember David. Though Goliath was great in the human eyes and in the human eyes he was small. However because he knows who planted him and with which power, he used the smallest of stone to pull down the greatest of warrior in his own time.
The kingdom of God on earth is represented in a larger sense by the Church. Like a small seed sown in the Palestinian land it has grown beyond that location and we all like birds are congregating on it. To maintain the growth of this kingdom until the final unification with the celestial kingdom is our baptismal obligation. In many places the church had faced serious attacks and polemics, yet we are sure that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. Let us remain steadfast and persevere as we strive to grow in faith and commitment to God.