Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
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 branches thereof.”

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, and yogurt.

    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 us.

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 leaven:

    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 acquaintances.

    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.



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