Are there any avid gardeners here? How many of you have ever tried to grow the “largest of plants” – the mighty mustard tree that Jesus is speaking of today? I’ve never done it. In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen a mustard tree, like we always envision Jesus talking about. So, I turned to the source of all wisdom and knowledge in our world to see what one looked like. In other words, I “googled” it.
Well, according to my brief research, it turns out that there is no such thing as a mustard tree. What’s more, there are many other little seeds that grow into bigger plants than the mustard “bush,” let’s call it. So, I was educated this week.
And now, I know better than Jesus.
How about you? Do you know better than Jesus? Maybe not about botany and horticulture, but something else? Jesus didn’t know calculus (it hadn’t been invented yet). He didn’t know what the surface of the moon felt like or that there were rings around Saturn. I’m talking about in His humanity. Jesus had to learn like all of us, and He was the product of his time in many ways. It’s why he used those familiar parables.
However, why is he misrepresenting the growth of the little mustard seed? It is not a giant tree.
Do we know better than Jesus here? And if so, might we believe that we know better than Jesus in other areas as well?
Before we answer, let’s consider how we live our lives and interact with the world – socially, culturally, and politically. How do we inform the values that drive our actions and our beliefs?
Consider some of the socially charged issues of our day. There are many people who know the Church’s teaching in various “uncomfortable” areas. For example, the Church opposes the use of artificial contraception because it frustrates and reorders the God-given faculty of fertility and the creation of life. Additionally, contraceptive attitudes have weakened the intimate bond that sexual union is intended to create. The result has been a skyrocketing occurrence of divorce in the last fifty or sixty years and the discounting and devaluing of the union of marriage in general – it’s just not that important to people. However, we would retort by saying that we have the ability to “responsibly plan” our families now and prevent “unwanted pregnancies.” We know better.
Or what about the regular taking of innocent life in the womb through abortion? The Church teaches that life begins when that child is conceived – however she is conceived – and therefore that person has the dignity of all other human beings. In fact, the taking of a defenseless, dependent life through direct abortion incurs and automatic excommunication from the Church; many people don’t necessary realize that. But the world responds by speaking of “women’s rights” and equivocation about what actually “qualifies” as human life. We know better.
Finally, the Church teaches that all people’s right to life is sacred – regardless of the circumstance – and that we have a duty to defend that life and treat people with the dignity of brothers and sisters. The Church’s position on those who migrate to our country – or any country, for that matter – is that they have the right to expect welcome and dignified treatment – especially the most vulnerable. The US Bishops this past week denounced the policy of separating families – many of whom are mothers fleeing violence in their homes and seeking asylum and new opportunity – and leaving children effectively orphaned. The Church teaches that this is wrong. However, many would say that these people should “get in line” (never mind that no such line exists for them), and that they should enter our country like my ancestors did in days of yore (never mind that immigration restrictions were virtually non-existent and we took pretty much everyone). We know better.
Or do we? Do we know better than Jesus and His Church?
As I read about the mustard plant, I learned more. I learned that in Jesus’ time, there was a variety of mustard plant that was prevalent. It would grow very tightly together and spread as widely as it could – like a weed – and it created an almost impenetrable thicket. And all it would take was just a couple of those tiny seeds. In that thicket, there was much shade and plenty of room for birds and other creatures. Looking out over a field decorated with the golden mustard flower, one would marvel that all of that could have started with a tiny seed. Maybe Jesus did know something after all!
We have a duty to protect life – all life – not just the life we like, not just the life right next to us, not just the life that is “convenient.” Any offense against the sacredness of life is a sin. One bishop, in fact, suggested that those who cooperate with the forced separation of families at our borders should be penalized, like those who procure or assist in an abortion. That’s consistency of respect for life, and all three of these issues are life issues.
I know these are tough, and they raise our hackles when we hear them. However, Jesus doesspeak to them through His Church, and He does know what He means. We might believe that we know better than Jesus. However, that kingdom of God that He shares is a matter of the closeness and connectedness of us all – like a vast thicket of the mustard plant. In that closely connected system – like our Church – there is room and safety for all who seek it. We owe one another – and the stranger in our midst – the dignity of love and compassion; because that is what Jesus wants. And Jesus knows best.