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The Mustard Seed

Reflection on Mt.13:31-33



A young boy meanders on the outskirts of town. At a plowed field he stops to watch as a man flings a handful of seeds upon the ground.


“What are you doing?” the boy calls, for the man, his cousin Clopas, has noticed him standing there.


“Planting,” he answers. “Do you want to see, Jesus?”


In response, the boy runs eagerly through the newly-plowed field. Clopas reaches into the bag at his side and pulls out a handful of grain. Dropping one seed into the Jesus’ outstretched hand, he says, “That will become a stalk of wheat. Or it could, if it takes root.”


Jesus studies the grain. “It is so small.”


“There are even smaller seeds that grow into bigger plants. You should see the mustard seed.” Clopas pauses. “Let the grain fall to the ground. Maybe it will bury itself in the soil and burst open and new life will come forth.”


Jesus obeys. Clopas then goes on with his work.


As He runs off, Jesus calls over His shoulder, “Thank you!”


Returning home, He enters His house to see what his mother is doing. “Wash your hands,” she says as He comes in the door.


“What are you doing?” He asks, having dutifully scrubbed off the dirt.


“Kneading bread dough,” Mary replies, her sleeves rolled up and her hands covered in flour.


Jesus stands at her side and peers into a small bowl, filled with granules of earthy color and aroma. “That’s the yeast,” His mother explains. “Without it, the bread is unleavened.”


“It’s so small,” Jesus muses.


“Just a little makes the whole loaf rise.” Mary looks at Him and smiles. “Come back in an hour and see.”


So Jesus runs off again, to find His father and help tidy up some tools and scrap wood and sweep the saw dust. When He comes back in the house, He lifts the damp cloth covering the bread bowl to peek inside. The dough has doubled in size; He looks at this in wonder.


God loves the small, the simple, humble and poor. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity came to us through a poor, humble young virgin, becoming a small, fragile baby in her womb. He came to Israel, a tiny, out-of-the-way corner of the Roman empire, was born in Bethlehem, “too small to be counted among the tribes of Judah” (Mic. 5:2), and grew up in the remote village of Nazareth. He gathered around Him a small band of simple, uneducated men, preached to the poor, and did not hesitate to eat with sinners. He died poor, stripped even of His clothing, and was buried in a borrowed tomb. He comes to us under the appearance of a small, fragile piece of bread. And yet, as we see in His coming forth from the tomb victorious over sin and death, Jesus is God. He is truly God, even when all we see is His humanity… or the simple form of bread….


It is a seeming paradox. As Pope Benedict (then Joseph Ratzinger) put it: “The boundless spirit [God] who bears in himself the totality of Being reaches beyond the ‘greatest,’ so that to him it is small, and he reaches into the smallest, because to him nothing is too small.” In all of this, God bursts open our notions of size and power. He does not disdain to work in and through the poor, the humble, the little.


I imagine Jesus looked at the mustard seed as He looks at us—seeing not simply littleness, but potential for life to the full, and delighting in every inch of growth along the way. If the seed hands itself over to the soil, the sun, the rain, it unfolds and grows. If the yeast is submerged in the dough, it affects the whole. Likewise, if I surrender my being to God, to the working of His grace, and cooperate with Him, I can grow in holiness. And then, as I grow, could I not become more and more like the yeast, “raising” the culture around me—transforming the Church and the world by my life, or rather, by Christ’s life in me?


Jesus Christ humbled Himself to become man for our sake, yet remained God without diminishment. He comes to us humbly in the Eucharist, the One Whom heaven and earth cannot contain. God loves the small, the humble the poor. Let us, then, give ourselves over to Him once again, in our own littleness and poverty, so that He can transform us—then we can be as leaven to a world so greatly in need of Him.


Sr. Cecilia Francis, CFR

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