Twenty-seventh Sunday after Pentecost (6th Epiphany)—16
November AD 2008
“The kingdom of heaven is like to a mustard seed, which
is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown up, it is greater than all
herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and dwell in the
Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Our Lord often used parables: “the kingdom of heaven is
like this or that.” The are a common device in cultures where people
rely on memory instead of written record. The Jews of our Lord’s time
tended to be literate, but writing was far more of a chore for them than it is
today. Little stories served to “jog” the memory.
But sometimes a parable given in one culture causes trouble
for those of another culture; those who do not leaven their own bread, or
have never seen a mustard tree. Mustard seed is a very tiny seed—perhaps
like a poppy seed on a kaiser roll—yet it grows to the size of a tree.
For those who have never baked a loaf of bread it is
necessary to know that Leaven was a bit of dough containing yeast, taken from
before the previous day's baking. It was mixed thoroughly with the new
dough, causing the yeast from the old to permeate the new. Thus, a tiny
bit of yeast might persist throughout many years of baking, and might even reach
out from one household to another. Obviously, this leaven was symbolic to
the Jews. As we have just seen, it represented widespread influence, and
enduring effect—even immortality.
It also represented life, for the yeast caused the dead
flour to rise, and in a similar manner, might change grape juice into a bubbling
wine. Among desert peoples, the fermentation process was the only way of
preserving foods, turning more perishable items into things like wine, cheese,
Yet, leaven and fermentation might also represent death,
for they were, after all a sort of corruption, and sometimes the process went
too far, souring the yogurt or turning the wine to vinegar. An observant
Jew will go to great lengths to ensure that there are no leavened products in
his home during the Passover—no symbols of death around during the Old
Testament feast of deliverance. Indeed, unleavened bread, and only
unleavened bread was offered was offered to God all year long by the priests of
the Temple in Jerusalem.
What our Lord is telling us today, is that seemingly
insignificant things can have enormous impact and importance. Often,
greatness is folly—humility and humble behavior are often much more important.
These parables indicate the tremendous power of good
example and of bad example.
If we have Faith, Hope, Charity...
If we keep the Commandments...
If we exercise positive virtue....
... then these things will be multiplied in those around
Yet, on the other hand,
If we are filled with skepticism, fear and hate....
If we do as we please, without regard to God's will....
If we never do good, simply for good's sake....
... then we will spread our bad example to our neighbors
... leavening them with our leaven of malice and insincerity.
There are no "victimless crimes." If we sin
alone, or with the consent of others, we still sin against the will of God.
God is offended; defrauded of what is rightfully His—respect, worship,
obedience, and so on. And those around us are poisoned by our actions.
Our sins may seem “little,” yet they are like the mustard seed and the
A “little” sin very likely will grow into bigger ones.
A single act against God's will, may well grow into a habit; serious and
difficult to break. Evil, even if done alone and under wraps, tends to
seep out and permeate the world around us—our homes, our communities, our
nations, ultimately, the world.
If this sounds a bit dark and gloomy, it should not.
For, just as small sins can have a powerful evil effect, so too can the good
things which we do have a powerful effect for the good. Indeed, our good
works are the stronger of the two, for, at least indirectly, they have God for
their author—He who is all powerful.
Yet we do have this obligation to do good and to avoid sin.
We have both an opportunity and an obligation to strengthen the kingdom of God
on earth by offering good example to those in our circle of friends and
We should ask God that that we may be as humble as the
mustard seed and the measure of leaven. Leave here today prepared to
exercise that humility. Ready to spread good example, to win souls for the
kingdom of heaven.