11th Sunday in Ordinary Time reflection by Barbara Silva
I love the parable we hear in the Gospel this Sunday – the reminder that all is not always what it seems and that we should not disregard what looks small and vulnerable upon first glance. However, the parable of the mustard seed is not only about something small and seemingly insignificant having the capacity to transform into something sprawling and vital to the environment. It is also about our own capacity and responsibility for growing with purpose.
The growth of the mustard seed into the “largest of plants” is not without a goal. It is not growth for growth’s sake. Its immense growth is “so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” It is for the sake of others, for the health, safety, and thriving of the collective. In the same way, the growth of the kingdom of God is not undertaken simply to “be bigger.” It’s not just about increasing the number of people in the pews on Sundays. With growth must come increased care, increased commitment to justice, increased sacrifice, and increased love. The kingdom of God is not a guest list. It is a way of life, a way of love, that has no barriers and no boundaries.
Our culture often tells us that “more is better”, that the accumulation of wealth, status, contacts, and material things is a good in itself, that this accumulation is an indication of our inherent value. But this is not true, and this is not why the church seeks to grow. Pope Francis reminds us that we cannot be a self-referential church, meaning that we are tasked with looking outward and responding to the needs and realities of the world of which we are a part. Our community and its growth are meant to be intentional.
This means that we must ask what the “why” behind each of our actions is. Why do we really go to Mass? Why do we serve? Why do we pray? Why do we spend our time in this community over others? Why do we want to bring others to God? For what purpose? To what end? It is up to us, both individually and collectively, to really reflect on these questions. If we don’t, we may be so focused on just keeping our community running or spreading the kingdom to those we already know and love that we don’t see those needing to dwell in the shade of our church, those needing to be comforted, to be supported, to be honored and uplifted. If the mustard plant grew large and then refused its shade to the creatures around it, would its growth have any value at all?
As more people return to worshipping in-person, today’s parable offers two special reminders. First, this community is for everyone. Whoever you are, whatever your story, you are welcome. Second, as a community guided by the Spirit, our return to our church building is so much more than our first steps across the plaza and through the doors. Our return is a reengagement in our relationship with God and with one another. Our return is an opportunity to grow in so many more ways than simply in number.
The next time you’re in the church at Saint Clement, look up at the tree of life over the altar. Take a moment to notice all of the birds seeking shelter within in. This is our purpose – to grow intentionally into a community that welcomes all, that offers rest to all who are weary, strength to all who feel week, hope to all who feel lost, and justice for all of our human family. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. May we grow well together.