We are now back in the season of Ordinary Time. During this season, the Church focuses on the teachings of Christ and His everyday life. Today’s readings reflect on the Kingdom of God using proverbial language and botany.
In the first reading, God describes how He uses the things that are low and raises them up to a prominent position. He will “tear off a tender shoot, and plant it on a high and lofty mountain.” He will “bring low the high tree” and will “lift high the lowly tree.” God is God, He can do this (Luke 1:37). I never get tired of stating that God always uses the impossible to do great things, often impossible. He chooses the weakest of men and women to humble the powerful (1 Corinthians 1:27). From death on the cross, He brings life, redemption and salvation (1 John 3:16, 1 Peter 2:24). Instead of using a majestic presence that will capture the minds of human beings to be with His Church, He chooses simple bread and wine (1 Corinthians 10:16, John 6:35, John 6:55). I can go on and on, but you get the point.
We human beings tend to think that success, power, money and the “big” things in life are what give us meaning, status and purpose. This is not true. Think of how many celebrities and people in power possessing all kinds of material things end up empty inside. They resort to drug use, alcohol abuse, and even suicide. What happened?? They had it all, money, fame, girls or guys. I will tell you what happened! These people bought into the world’s lie. The lie that echoed since Adam and Eve from the serpent telling them to take, eat and enjoy, that in doing so they will not die and will be like gods (Genesis 3:4-5). Material things do not give us life. Having the means to afford plastic cosmetic surgery, botox and what not will not make us live forever. We will not become like gods. This is a lie from the father of lies (John 8:44). To hell with that liar, literally! Only Christ gives life (John 14:6)! We must be humble so that God can raise us up (1 Peter 5:6, James 4:10). We must be poor so that we can be rich in God (Matthew 5:3). This is why the Pope is calling the Church to be the “Church of the poor.” The poor have nothing, yet they have a lot. It is one of the biggest paradoxes and mysteries that outdoes any physics differential equation that attempts to describe dark matter or any other concept using derivatives. We must give thanks to God for all we have as the Psalm today states.
In the responsorial Psalm, we are reminded to give God thanks. We must praise God’s name and proclaim His kindness at dawn and throughout the day. This is why the Church has the Liturgy of the Hours which every Catholic should pray. By living in God, being holy and humble, we will “flourish like the palm tree.” We then shall be “planted in the house of the Lord.” The house of the Lord is our true home (Philippians 3:20). The second reading reminds us of this.
In the second reading, we read that “while we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord.” This does not mean that the body is evil or that we should desire death. What this means is that we are meant for better things (Matthew 6:26, John 14:2). We are meant to have a body like that of the resurrected Jesus (Philippians 3:21, 1 Corinthians 15:53). A body that does not get sick and cannot die. A body that is pure and truly houses the Holy Spirit as His temple (1 Corinthians 6:19). When we pass on to the Lord, we will be judged and will receive what we deserved based on our faith and works or lack thereof (Ephesians 6:8, Matthew 6:1).
The Gospel today tells of Christ comparing the kingdom of God to that of a mustard seed. He described this seed as the smallest on the earth. Once it is planted, it grows becoming the largest tree. From it, the birds use it to nest and for shade. Jesus is using the imagery found in the first reading.
Atheists often bring up this Gospel passage in order to drum up charges against Christ claiming Him to be ignorant and disqualifying Him as God. You may ask, ‘how so?’ Well, they resort to the science of botany to make their claims. Jesus says that the mustard seed is the smallest on earth and this is not so, scientifically speaking. Did Jesus lie? Did Jesus get His science wrong? How can God – the Son of God – not know about His own creation? Well, the response is simple. Jesus was speaking proverbially. Remember, He was making a comparison in regards to what the kingdom of God is like. In the region, there are several kinds of mustard seeds. Among them are the Salvadora persica, Sinapis alba, the Sinapsis juncea and the Brassica Nigra. The Salvadora persica has small seeds which grow into a shrub. Both the Sinapsis juncea and the Sinapis alba grow into small tree-like plants.
Therefore, the one that Jesus was referring to was the Brassica nigra. This seed is small and black, yet grows into a bushy tree over 10-15 feet tall. Moreover, the crown of the Brassica Nigra tree or the bushy top part where the branches and leaves are is structured in a way that provides shade or a shadow which is how the first reading and the Gospel describe how birds or winged creatures will enjoy it. Jesus was not scientifically illiterate. He used proverbial language with the available botanical elements in the area in order for the people to understand.
Let us be humble, plant our lives in God and allow Him to cultivate our lives so that we can grow into a “Brassica Nigra” and show the world what real “success is.” It is not in money, fame or power, but in Christ Jesus. May Jesus be praised!