Lectio Divina: 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Hope: Trust in God’s Love

Paris, June 12, 2015 (ZENIT.org) Monsignor Francesco Follo  

1) Man sows with faith, God makes grow with love.

The Gospel of this Sunday (Mk 4: 26-35) offers two brief parables, the one of the seed that grows by itself and the one of the mustard seed. The sowing of the smallest grain produces the biggest event: the Kingdom of heaven. Using images taken from the life in the fields, Jesus presents the kingdom of God1 and indicates the reasons for our commitment full of hope. In the first parable Jesus shows the miracle of growth, describing the dynamics of sowing. The seed is sown in the earth, then, whether the farmer sleeps or vigils, it sprouts and grows by itself. Man does nothing but sowing and waiting. We are in front of the mystery of creation, God’s action in history which we must contemplate in amazement. He is the Lord of the Kingdom, man is a humble collaborator contemplating and rejoicing of God’s creative doing and waiting for the harvest eager to participate in it.

In this regard, St. Gregory the Great says “The man throws the seed when he conceives in the heart a good intention. The seed sprouts and grows but he is not aware of that because, until it’s time to harvest, the good deeds continues to grow. The earth bears fruit by itself, because through prevenient grace, the human mind naturally goes toward the fruit of good deeds. The earth does it in stages: grass, ear, wheat. To produce grass means to have the weakness of the beginning of good. The grass does the ear, when virtue progresses into good. Wheat fills the ear when virtue reaches the strength and the perfection of the good deed. When the fruit is ripe, comes the sickle because it’s time to harvest. In fact, God Almighty, when the fruit is ripe, sends the sickle and reaps the harvest because when He has led each of us to the perfection of the work, he truncates our temporal life to take his grain in the granaries of heaven “(In Exodus , II, 3, 5 and following)

In the second parable Jesus speaks again of sowing. However, he refers to a specific seed, the mustard seed, considered the smallest of all seeds (1.6 mm according to the experts). Though so small, it has an unthinkable dynamism and power of life. So is the Kingdom of God, something really small humanly speaking and made up of people usually simple, poor, not important to the eyes of the world. Nevertheless the power of Christ breaks through them and transforms what is minor and seemingly insignificant. The mustard seed becomes a high and robust shrub, able to give shelter in its branches to the birds. The Kingdom of God, from a human point of view, is like a tiny scorned for its appearance, but that contains within itself the mystery of a prodigious divine force that for us is unimaginable. Saint Ambrose, commenting this parable, wrote “Let’s see why the sublime kingdom of heaven is likened to a mustard seed. I remember reading, in another passage, about the mustard seed that the Lord compares to faith with these words “If you have a faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain” Move from here to there” (Mt 17, 20). It is not a mediocre faith, but a great faith the one that is able to command a mountain to move. In fact, it is not a mediocre faith the one that the Lord demands from the apostles, knowing that they must fight the greatness and the exaltation of the spirit of evil. So, if the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed and faith too is like a mustard seed, faith is certainly the Kingdom of heaven, and the Kingdom of heaven is faith. “(Exp. in Lk., 7, 176-180; 182-186).

The first lesson to be learned from this passage of the Gospel is that we must look to the nature of the similarities, not to their appearance. In fact, despite the humble beginnings of the action of God in the person and work of Jesus as well as in the persons and works of Christians, thanks to the Christian sowing, humanity will grow in full justice, peace and freedom because of the love of providential God.

2) Hope and patience.

The second lesson that comes from the two parables is that even and especially in a society that is in a hurry and that calls “real time” a news that arrives within seconds, we must be active and wait patiently because the seed, freely given, can bear fruit only if it is welcomed and cared for. We are confronted with God’s grace and our freedom. God’s grace and human freedom characterize all our personal history. On the one hand we are called to live with amazement the growth of the small seed planted in the ground (first parable). On the other we are taught that both patience and care are crucial for the earth to protect and feed the seed, and the sun to bring it to fruition. The Gospel is a school that educates to the waiting. Jesus lived in the time and limit of a short life and of horizons that seem restricted, but He has waited for nothing less than the Kingdom of God in this world. For this reason in the Gospel we can gather images of waiting by which to learn to live the “already and not yet”, the paradoxical waiting of the Christian life.

To wait is not easy, especially today. But the verb “to wait” has two meanings: to wait and to wait on. Let me explain it by referring to ordinary life where someone is asked to “wait on” for the most mundane and everyday jobs like feeding, watching over the lives of those entrusted to him or to her, setting the table, keeping the fire , being alert of looming dangers. A person waits paying attention to the brothers entrusted to him or to her, not letting himself or herself being overcome by the fatigue and not seeking gratification, i.e. not thinking of oneself, before thinking of the needs of others.

To wait requires asceticism, an effort to not let go. One waits in the vigilance of a light (prayer) and in the active life (charity) of those who are with their loins girded by the apron of service. Prayer and charity are the exercises that teach us to wait. Those who pray learn that the Lord neither speaks nor enters into dialogue immediately with the person praying. There is a silence to go through, but this silence educates to the waiting and gives resonance to the words. Those who love and serve know the difference between the services provided and the fruits and the awards, because it is necessary to serve free of charge, like “useless servants”, honoring their task without any other concern. It is first of all to “do their part” and not to avoid the fatigue of the days when it seems an “unnecessary work” without immediate results.

The other meaning is to wait and this implies hope and patience. Patience is “suffering the time” (Maria Zambrano) and the emptiness of a work that is not wholly and solely in our hands, the timing of which escapes our hustle and our need for control and reassurance. But, once done our part, we can rest in peace because there is a time that comes to us “spontaneously” and independently of us. As you cannot “force” the growth of the seed without risking damaging the plant, so you cannot force the growth of our brothers and sisters. We must learn to wait in the long run, to work without curtailing the time, without giving forced deadlines to growth. It is in the school of the Gospel that we learn the true patience that keeps track of time. In this passing of time the meaning comes from the future, and the fullness of time accounts for the time of waiting. If we look at it from our side, history begins at the beginning. If we look from God’s side the beginning starts from the end. In the “fullness of time” came the Son and humanity has realized that the time had come to its fullness because of his presence that led it to completion. He comes because he is long-awaited by the patient work of countless generations who have sown with faith in the hope to see that day. His coming is, however, a real surprise: the wait is dissolved in the joy of contemplating the abundance of the field of the kingdom of God, the shadow of a tree under which to find rest like birds escaped from danger.

Hope consists in putting ourselves in a filial and trusting way in the hands of God, who knows what we need (see Mt 6,8) and “gives to all with simplicity and without conditions” (James 1, 5). Like the Redeemer, who gave up his life in the hands of the Father (cfr. Lk 23:46), so the Christian is anchored in the Eternal, because hope is as a spiritual anchor, sure and steadfast, thrown in the afterlife into which for us Jesus has already entered ( see Heb 6.19 to 20). 

However it must be remembered that Christian hope is the hope of the fulfillment of this life, and not of another life where to escape to. It implies the acceptance of history as a place in which the presence of God is manifested. It doesn’t breed contempt, but causes appreciation and gratitude while being aware of the limits. It is the inner strength of faith that makes men walk with God, seek His presence and commit themselves to work for the coming of the Kingdom: “Only when the future is certain as a positive reality, it becomes possible to live the present.2” Christian hope sees and loves what will be. It is the dynamic element of the moral life, which pursues in continue growth both the light of faith and the energy of love. Hope is the younger sister holding hands and guiding the older ones, faith and charity, toward the goal3. While we are on the way, in the midst of trials and difficulties both individual and collective, hope generated by faith produces charity.4

3) The mustard seed of consecrated virgins in the world.

The Parable of the mustard seed shows that humility is the God’s method. This method was realized in the Incarnation in the cave of Bethlehem, in the simple home of Nazareth, and in the “earthly” life of Jesus. In today’s liturgy this method of humility is taught to us through the parable of the mustard seed.

We need not to fear the humility of small steps and must have trust that the (seemingly) small seed grows in us and then must be given to others. An example of how we can imitate this method of humility is the one offered by the life of the consecrated virgins in the world who show to us that “in giving life with simplicity one gets Life” (Pope Francis)

Consecrating themselves to Love, these women have placed their hope in something that is not from God, but God himself. In this regard, Saint Augustine teaches “May the Lord your God be your hope; do not expect anything from the Lord your God, but let the same Lord be your hope. Many hope from God something outside of Him; but look for your God. Forgetting other things, remember Him; leaving everything behind, reach to Him. He will be your love “(Enarrationes in Psalmos, 39, 7-8). The mustard seed is not only a likeness of Christian hope, but provides evidence that great comes from small not by exceptional ability but thanks to the Christian attitude of simple people who live of God’s love and patience that is the long breath of love.

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