It is an experience every Father has no matter how many children he may have or how old they get. We look on our children and marvel at how much they have grown. Around the dinner table hearing the clever words they use or watching them develop their talents we cannot help asking ourselves where they got it all. As they learn at such a rapid pace we realize that there is something at work in them that is wider and deeper than the nurture we have provided. Even though we cannot always take credit for it, we delight in seeing them become unique individuals before our eyes.
Just as our children grow in marvelous and often unseen ways, so God’s Kingdom sends its roots deep into the earth and stretches out its branches throughout all the world. The growth is almost unnoticeable. Much of it takes place underground beyond what we are able to see. Yet Jesus assures us in today’s parable that the growth is steady and sure. Just as the smallest of seeds can become the largest of shrubs, so God’s Kingdom, small and hidden as it often is, can grow to give shelter and shade to all peoples.
Jesus’ parable should give us deep peace. When we look at our individual spiritual lives, we often can feel discouraged as we struggle with the same temptations or experience times of dryness in our prayer. God’s will and purpose does not always seem clear. However, through God’s grace we are growing. Like a seed deep in the earth, it is a hidden growth. But it beckons us to trust in God, allow Him to do His work and wait for the results.
Jesus’ parable should also give us peace as we labor in God’s vineyard. So many of our words as catechists and preachers can seem like seed thrown into the wind. We can look out onto a congregation with faces as expressionless as the statues on Easter Island and wonder if we are really getting through to anyone. Are our sacrifices and efforts making any difference? It is natural for us as humans to want to see results, and as Westerners we want to see them instantly. Yet Jesus assures us that He is giving the growth. We may be blessed to see the fruits of that growth from time to time, but for the most part it will take place in hidden ways requiring us to trust and wait patiently.
There are many cliches to help us try to understand the mystery of our cooperation with God’s great work of building the Kingdom. We have all heard, “God helps those who help themselves,” or “Work as if everything depended on you and pray as if everything depended on God.” None are as powerful as Jesus’ parable of the seed. Like a good farmer, we water the soil and tend the young plant, but it grows with a vitality and a dynamism that comes not from us but from God.
And just as the tree is vastly larger and more beautiful than its seed, so what we see around us is nothing compared to what we will see when the Kingdom is in full flower.
Therefore, Saint Paul’s words to us from the Second Letter to the Corinthians spell out the attitude we are to have as we tend God’s Kingdom. “We continue to be confident.... We walk by faith, not by sight.” We go forth every day with our prayer and our work understanding that we will not always see them bear fruit. We experience frustration and failure trusting that somehow it may still serve God’s purpose. And, in the end, we entrust all our efforts to our Heavenly Father with the confidence that all things will eventually be revealed before the tribunal of Christ.
Given that all this is God’s work, is there not also reason for us to rejoice? We can get so bogged down in our failures, our ineffectiveness and our sin that we fail to see what God has already accomplished. When a child speaks her first words, our instinct is not to correct her. Rather we laugh, encourage her and take delight in her ability to learn. Just so, can we trust that our Heavenly Father takes delight in us though our steps may be unsteady? Can we rest in the knowledge that we are loved and that all our needs are being provided for by a God who loves us? Can we rejoice in what God has been able to accomplish so far with people such as we are?
That does not mean that we blind ourselves to the real challenges or neglect the hard work that still needs to be done. It does not mean that we become triumphalistic or prideful. Rather, it means that we humbly see our efforts for what they are - not a means of affirming ourselves and our own goodness but a means of affirming God and His sovereignty.
Fathers see it so clearly in their children who grow into maturity and adulthood in marvelous ways. Early in their children's development, they may compare them to their peers and wonder why they are not yet walking or why they do not seem to be learning to speak as quickly. But, before long, they are chasing them down the aisles of the supermarket or telling them to shush during Mass. Just so, we may wonder why we are so slow to grow in virtue or why our parish does not seem to be flourishing. Can we let go of our need to manage everything and to see immediate results so as to trust that our Heavenly Father is at work? Can we take delight in what we see before us just as God surely does?
There is no more marvelous symbol of our daily struggles to tend the Kingdom than the Eucharist we celebrate every Sunday. We bring to God dry,stale bread and vinegary table wine, and He transforms it into the Body and Blood of Christ to nourish us on our journey. Therefore, we can rest in peace and work with confidence. Our Heavenly Father has it all under control and is making everything work out for the salvation of the world.