“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard
“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven....”
When we think of creation we tend to think of material
creation—things like leaven and mustard seeds on the small scale, on up to
planets, and stars, and galaxies at the large end. We know that all of
these things were brought into existence, out of nothing, by an act of God's
divine will. We sometimes forget that God also created a spiritual
universe in much the same way. The angels are created beings, and we
humans are created beings in both our bodies and our souls.
The nature of material things is that they are
composite, made of many parts which tend to separate, to wear down, and
eventually to give out. Spiritual things are different in that they have
nothing to break. Even though they were created at some point in time,
they will last forever—we say they are immortal. We know that at some
point in time, all material things will be destroyed. The Apocalypse
suggests that they will be replaced with a “new heaven and a new earth”
but there is nothing to suggest that anything of the old will survive the
transition to the new.
As human beings we have come to understand the reality
of death—“seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty if we are strong.”
—so the warning of the Apocalypse doesn't concern us a great deal—our own
personal end will probably come long before any making of a “new earth.” We
also know that our Lord has promised eternal life to " those who believe and
The Gospel today gives us a metaphor of how we are to
use the things available to us—material and spiritual—to ensure a share in
that eternal life.
The mustard seed is a tiny thing. It looks like the
little black poppy seeds on a kaiser role, but smaller and lighter. It is
blown about by the wind, and carried about even by the smallest animals.
And as our Lord points out, this tiny seed sprouts and grows into a bush the
size of a tree. The mustard seed reminds us of the Catholic Church.
The Church of Jesus Christ has grown from His teachings to a small band of
Apostles, who were scattered about the known world, ultimately to have an
effect on all the continents and peoples of the world. It is particularly
remarkable that this growth has taken place even though the Church expects
discipline and virtue in Her members, while many competing religions have
relied on making life sensual as a means of recruiting. Indeed, the
Church is generally successful in proportion to the asceticism She demands,
and tends to wither when She relaxes her standards.
Leaven is another seemingly trivial thing that also has
tremendous effect. It is a living and growing organism, so a little bit
is capable of leavening a large mass of dough. More than that, a bit of
that dough will serve to leaven the next batch, and so on, indefinately.
It also helps to preserve the bread from other organisms that might spoil
it. The people of our Lord's time did something similar to preserve milk
and grape juice as yogurt and wine. The presence of leaven in all three
foods tended to keep them from organisms that would cause them to spoil.
These leavened foods should remind us of three things:
sanctifying grace, the holy Sacraments, and the word of God. Each of
these is necessary for us as individual members of the Church. Each will
grow in us, and transform us so that we are resistant to the power of evil.
We hear the word of God through our reading of the
Sacred Scriptures and through the traditions and authoritative teachings of
the Church, and even in the sermons and homilies we hear at holy Mass.
This word is necessary so that we might know what is expected of us to
please God. This will include the Commandments we are expected to keep,
the works of mercy we are expected to perform, and the ways in which we may
obtain a share in His spiritual life. Remember that the material part of
us is transient, and we should strive to be more and more spiritual.
The second leaven is found in the holy Sacraments.
If you consider all seven of them, it is possible to see a path that leads
from spiritual birth, through spiritual life in the world, and on to the
final preparations for eternal life. Through the Sacraments our natural
and material life is made a holy life and we are prepared for God under any
circumstance. Not only are we prepared for heaven, but we are enabled to
live our entire life with God. Of special importance here are sacramental
Confession and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with frequent Holy Communion.
“If you do not eat my body and drink my blood, you shall not have life in
The third leaven I referred to is sanctifying grace.
Obviously this flows from God's word and from His Sacraments. But it
should also flow from personal acts of prayer and devotion. The public
worship of the Church is important, but a life of personal prayer is
necessary to complement our public acts. The Lord's Prayer and the Hail
Mary are essentials of the spiritual life. And, of course, I would be
remiss if I didn't encourage you to combine them with the meditations on the
Life of Jesus and Mary which make up the Rosary.
So, in today's Gospel we see the confluence of material
creation with the spiritual creation. Our Lord uses the symbolism of
simple things—the mustard seed and leaven—to remind us of the things of the
spiritual life: Holy Mother Church, sanctifying grace, the holy Sacraments,
and the word of God. All four are necessary to prepare us for life with
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed....”
“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven....”