It was 30 years ago, in a country openly hostile to Christianity. The Catholic Church was heavily restricted in Her mission. As a young man, I asked a certain priest to help me buy a Bible. This was a rather challenging task in the reality of the time and place. A week or so later he called me to meet him in the parish office, and there he handed over a big brown envelope containing a brand-new copy of the Bible. I offered to cover all the costs, as agreed, but he refused to accept a penny. When I read the parables in today’s gospel, I instantly recalled that moment from my distant past. That priest’s simple but generous gesture was planting a seed. I’m absolutely certain he did that off-the-cuff, without any premeditated, long-term plan in mind. He was just that kind of a priest: helpful, kind and generous, though never naïve.
The parables in today’s gospel seem to be at odds with our prevailing attitude. We tend to plan ahead, to take care of fine detail, to predict every possible difficulty or outcome. The more important the matter, the more attention we pay to it. Similarly, in the Church, from the Vatican right down to each small parish, plans and strategies are drawn up and put in place with the objectives of minimising the decline at least and of nurturing the community in every aspect at best. Jesus in today’s gospel seems to throw those rules out of the window.
In his first parable, Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a seed planted by a man; that seed grows, regardless of the sower’s personal knowledge or worries or whether he’s asleep or awake. In the second parable, Jesus talks about humble beginnings (using the example of the tiniest seed known in the Middle East at that time) growing into a massive bush or tree. What is common to both parables is that the final outcome serves others, in one the form of a crop, and in the other a shelter for birds. Both parables seem to promote a care-free approach to the challenges of the spiritual life. However, at the end of today’s gospel we learn that while Jesus delivered the parables to the general public, he explained them later in greater detail to his disciples.
The two parables teach us the value of personal testimony. But I’m not talking here about the toe-curling kind of show-off who stages a pre-planned, overtly-religious testimony. I’m talking about the testimony of everyday life, when and where our attitudes, words and actions incidentally make a positive impact on the people around us. Those attitudes are visible, and those words and actions emerge naturally and spontaneously, because they are part of us and are deeply rooted in our hearts. When we pray, when we go to Confession, when we attend Mass, we are engaging in religious practices and duties which have the common goals of changing our hearts and of moulding them into the shape of instinctive love and compassion. When each one of us lets Jesus do this for us, we will have to worry much less about the future of the Church.