Mk 4.26-34                Ez 17.22-24            2Cor 5.6-10

Who said this?  Words to the effect since smiling is good for one’s health, it would be better for him to just make a funny face for the crowd than read a lengthy speech! To quote him directly: “In the midst of so much gloomy news, immersed as we are in many social and even personal emergencies, you have the power to spread peace and smiles… You are among the few who have the ability to speak to all types of people, from different generations and cultural backgrounds.”  Further, he stressed:  “Humour is never against anyone (well, it shouldn’t be!), but is always inclusive, purposeful, eliciting openness, sympathy, empathy.”  Did you know that this week at the Vatican,  it was Pope Francis hosting a group of 105 comedians from around the world, with whom he swapped jokes?

It is heartening that in a troubled world, racked with conflicts, that Pope Francis could take time to reflect on the need for humour and a smile, in the midst of it all. It certainly helps to have a good sense of humour, beginning with the ability to laugh at ourselves, and not be too serious about minor issues.  At the same time, it doesn’t mean not taking life seriously and our responsibility to be people of love and service as we respond to the Gospel.

Life is only static for minerals; plants, animals and humans come into a world of constant change and growth, which is inevitable and unstoppable, until the end comes to all, in physical terms.  Jesus uses literally down to earth environmental examples all the time, as he looks to the world around him, and relates a message of faith to his listeners, in order for them to appreciate what he means.

Mark’s Gospel has only an abbreviated parable of the sower here, where the focus is on unstoppable germination and growth of the seed, as it finally produces the harvest. Matthew goes into more detail about the obstacles along the way, which can thwart or spoil the end result, due to human weakness and negative influences.  Yet the main point is that there might be problems, nut nothing can stop the end result, with God’s hidden, but guiding hand.

As we know, Jesus constantly teaches that the Kingdom of God he proclaims is a work in progress throughout human history, never quite achieved, but the qualities of justice, love and peace are to be proclaimed and lived by believers who follow him, and apply his teaching to their lives, as we are challenged to do in ours.  We know we constantly fall short, given human nature and imperfection, but the call is to keep trying with perseverance and determination. It’s a lifelong process for all of us.

The way to go is clear, in following him and producing the good fruits of the Spirit, but accepting that the job is never finally done.

Jesus looks around and sees a dark world in turmoil, people overcome by weakness and sin, and in need of God’s grace, goodness and positive growth.  His Kingdom is not concerned with comfort,  power and wealth, but equality and service.  He corrects the false expectations and hopes of the crowds, many of whom seek freedom from Roman rule, as if that was going to solve all of their problems, when, in fact Roman rule had some benefits, and Jesus was not into politics!  He also counters discouragement, with his words of promise and hope.

The seed of the parable is Jesus’ preaching, and whilst growth is not always observable, it is inevitable as time goes on, the soil being receptive human hearts, with the harvest coming in the end.  The image of the tiny mustard seed reflects how something insignificant can become something great, and then the lovely description of the birds of the air landing in the branches indicative of the universal and inclusive nature of the Kingdom in its diversity.

As usual, Claude Mostowik MSC puts it well: “Let us appreciate little things and small gestures. We are called to put a little dignity, a little compassion, a little more justice, into each corner of our little world. Kindness towards a person in trouble, a welcoming smile for a lonely person, an invitation to a neighbour or stranger to visit, a listening ear for someone in despair, in depression, or struggling with mental illness might not seem to be big things or heroic, but they are.  These are the seeds that build up God’s reign, the seeds of a new humanity.”

And here’s a simple example. This week I attended a secular funeral of an old friend’s mother in Morwell, where I met and had a good chat with a most interesting and inspiring person in Sister of Sion, Patricia Fox, who has spent 28 years as a missionary sister in the Philippines, until 2018, when she was denounced by the President and ordered to leave the country. She was concerned for the well-being of peasants and the urban poor, having said: “The role of the religious is to be with those who are suffering, oppressed, to be with those who are expressing their rights.”  It’s amazing, even amusing, to think that such a diminutive, humble and unassuming, but forceful, feisty and committed figure, could be seen as a serious threat to the rich and powerful! But, as she’d say, all she was doing was putting the Gospel into practice, where people were suffering all sorts of injustices, and standing up in solidarity with them.

Here is someone still making a difference in sowing the seeds and spreading the good news of the Kingdom of justice, peace and love.

It’s all an ongoing work in progress, with you and me as active participants in it all.

john hannon                                                                         16th June 2024

On another track this past week, Pope Francis also said that a homily is to: “Help move the Word of God from the book to life… But the homily for this must be short: an image, a thought a feeling… (It) should not go beyond 8 minutes because after that time you lose attention, and people fall asleep.” !!  So, stay awake meanwhile, as I speak to you now! (It has been pointed out that Francis often exceeds this time limit himself!).


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