View all Gospel Reflections |
Contemplating the Kingdom
Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like? To what can I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that a man took and planted in the garden. When it was fully grown, it became a large bush and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches.” Again he said, “To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened.”
Opening Prayer: In today’s psalm you remind me of the experience of your Chosen People in exile. How could they have continued to hope in your promise of redemption when they found themselves oppressed and helpless in foreign lands for decade after decade? And yet, you did fulfill your promise, and wonderfully brought them back, and then their mouth was filled with laughter and their tongue with rejoicing. I often feel that I am in exile, far from my true homeland. My heart aches for lasting peace and joy. And I come to you this day to renew my hope in you and to ask for the grace I need to continue my journey through this valley of tears.
- Visualizing the Invisible: Christ’s parables make visible in the realities of our minds that, in themselves, are invisible. They are, in a certain sense, echoes of his own Incarnation, through which the invisible God became visible in Jesus. We need these parables. The invisible realities are the ones we most need to keep firm as the reference points of our lives. If we can’t visualize them somehow, we tend to forget them, and we lose those reference points. That’s when we get lost and go astray. We should love these parables, then, as fuel for our hope, the hope that propels us forward on the journey of life. As St. Paul mentions in today’s first reading: For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance (Romans 8:24-25). This virtue of hope is in short supply in our postmodern, secularized world. That world is shortsighted; it expects perfect happiness to result from the right combination of consumer products, digital popularity, exercise routines, and entertainment subscriptions. It has no place for, and no way to comprehend, the inevitable sufferings that come to us in this fallen, sin-ridden world. But in Christ we can both accept and comprehend them. We know they come from the brokenness of human nature and human society, and we know that in Christ even the most twisted brokenness can be redeemed. Turning back to St. Paul in today’s first reading: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us (Romans 8:18).
- The Mustard Seed: The parable of the mustard seed allows us to visualize the future fruitfulness of our seemingly small actions on behalf of Christ. Most of what happens in the Church is small by the world’s standards—a sprinkle of water at baptism, a word of absolution in confession, a host of unleavened bread at Communion. And yet, contained in these small realities is the actual grace of God. The same goes for our small prayers, our small sacrifices, our small, hidden acts of virtue. These are tiny, from the world’s perspective—not worthy of even a footnote in the annals of the relentless 24/7 news cycle, let alone a headline. And yet, hidden within these tiny acts of faith and responses to God’s grace is a great future, just as the tiny mustard seed contains in potency the largest of shrubs. Contemplating this comparison will enable us to continue committing ourselves to the small things, the things that don’t appear in the headlines, but the things that will be fruitful for an everlasting Kingdom.
- The Leaven in the Dough: The parable of the leaven in the dough allows us to visualize the hidden and transforming power of faith, hope, and love, of the grace and truth brought into the world by the Gospel. The leaven literally disappears within the mass of dough. In comparison with the dough, its weight and volume are insignificant. And yet, the entire loaf is affected by that leaven. It is changed and transformed. Just so, Christians living their faith authentically may be indistinguishable on the outside from their neighbors, their coworkers, their comrades, while their witness, their mere presence, gradually works a transformation not only of their inner circles, but even of entire communities, societies, and cultures. How important it is for us to contemplate this image and believe in the hidden power of God’s grace! When the enemy of our souls can’t get us to rebel against God through mortal sin, he will try to distract us from the fruitfulness of day-by-day fidelity to grace by stirring up obsessions with “headline-worthy” events and decisions over which we have no influence at all. If we spend all our energy and attention there, the dough within our grasp will never receive the leaven God wants to give it through our humble and courageous faith.
Conversing with Christ: I cannot see you, Lord, but I believe in you. I cannot see all the results of my efforts to serve you and build up your Kingdom, but I believe that none of those efforts will be in vain. I cannot see all the graces I receive when I go to Mass and confession, but I believe they are there, at work in my mind and heart like leaven in the dough. Thank you, Lord, for teaching me with these simple, beautiful parables. Help me to savor them, to allow their truth to feed my hope, so that I never stop working joyfully with you to advance your Kingdom.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will perform one act of kindness or Christian witness without looking for any immediate recognition, result, or recompense, knowing that in so doing I am spreading leaven and planting seeds.
For Further Reflection: Watch, read, or listen to The Kingdom without End: A Retreat Guide on Christ the King.
Written by Fr. John Bartunek, LC.