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" The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything... "
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Eleventh Sunday - Tolkien, Lewis, mustard seed and the Kingdom of God
Back in the 1940's and 1950's a group of Christian writers met in a little pub outside the boundaries of Oxford University, known as 'Bird and Baby' pub. They gathered there to read each other their works. They would listen to each other's critiques, read their latest productions. They were trying to produce a literature for both children and adults that would proclaim the truth of the Christian faith. This little group of friends, most of whom taught at Oxford University, called themselves The Inklings and its most prominent members were Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Around that dingy little table in this pub they read to each other The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings (can you imagine how long that took), Mere Christianity and The Chronicles of Narnia. Would they in their wildest dreams have thought that one day these would sell hundreds of millions of copies all over the world? I wonder if Lewis or Tolkien would ever have imagined in their wildest dreams that in the early twenty first century among the most popular movies in the world would be The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.
What were they trying to do? They were trying to evangelise the imagination, to plant the seeds of the gospel in the imagination of people, especially kids. They thought Christianity was right. They didn't think it was one religion among many or one opinion among many. They were convinced that God and our own salvation are the most important things in life. And therefore they resolved that they would give the best of themselves; they would give their minds, their energy, and the best of their literary skill to the propagation of this great truth. They were evangelists.
Dear Brothers and Sisters. We live in the age of the instant product. We want results and we want them fast. We have instant soup, instant tea, instant photos... pretty well instant anything. We know that the quality suffers, but we are willing to sacrifice that for quick results, and time and effort saved. Our age could be called then the age of the push button. All we have to do is press a button or turn a switch and things happen.
We often forget that certain things cannot be rushed. To grow to maturity as human being is the job of a lifetime; to write a best-seller like The Lord of the Rings takes time; to build a good relationship with someone takes time; to get to know and understand one's children takes time; to overcome one's sins and weaknesses takes time.
The parable of the mustard from today's gospel seed was a reply to the question: Could the kingdom really grow from such humble beginnings? Mark's reply was that the little group of disciples could indeed become a kingdom of God. The seed represents here our own efforts. God's grace is represented by the action of the sun and the rain on that seed, which bring it to fruition. Without God's grace our efforts will come to nothing, but with the aid of his grace they can produce astonishing fruit. So often we fail to build up the Kingdom of God, because the task seems beyond us. Millions of people know nothing of Jesus Christ. What can we do about it? The task is immense; our efforts may seem futile.
Let's look at our first reading. Any effort must have seemed futile to the prophet Ezekiel. He thought back to the great days of the nation of Israel, the days of King David or of King Solomon. Since then, ten of the twelve tribes of Israel had been demolished by the Assyrians, and the territory of the two remaining tribes had been invaded by the Babylonians. The survivors, such as there were, had been carried off as slaves to Babylon. Could this remnant, this handful of slaves, again become a great nation? Yes, said God; just as a small cutting from a tree can itself grow into a great tree, so this little remnant would grow again into a nation. And he kept his promise.
Many great things begin in small and often hidden ways, indeed. Examples: a building begins with one brick on another, a book begins with one word on a page, a journey with a single step, a forest fire from a single spark, a huge river from a tiny spring, a lifelong friendship from a chance encounter. Things that have a certain integrity always seem to start from humble beginnings.
Hence the importance of taking care of things in their beginnings. Consider again the mustard seed or the grain sown in the cornfield. We can with the aid of God's grace produce a tremendous harvest. God he asks us to do that initial work, to sow the seed. Cannot each of us sow a tiny seed today? A kind word, a good action, done in Jesus's name can grow out of all proportion and become a great work. I think of some little, apparently insignificant actions that have had tremendous consequences. Andrew says to his brother Simon: We have found the Messiah: come and see! - and Simon becomes Saint Peter. A Samaritan woman says to her friends: Come and meet someone who told me everything I ever did - and the whole village is converted. A young woman takes it into head that she wants to become a nun - and ends up founding a new religious order.
Dear Parishioners. The lovely little parable of the mustard seed shows us that there is an almighty power working for us. Our job is to sow the seed. Let us make a start, however small. Let us take one step. Then God has to take over. And God does. Any farmer will tell you that. If we do the right thing, the harvest will come. But can we be patient, can we wait, can we trust
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