Proper 22C: How Much Faith is Enough?

“A Mustard Seed”, by Piety Choi (

FIRST LESSON:  Lamentations 1: 1-6

Read the passage from Lamentations

Lamentations is a book of poetry around the subject of unspeakable suffering.  In Hebrew, the name of the book means something like “funeral dirges”.  The writings come from a place of deep and profound hurt and, for that reason, the book is often considered on the margins of the liturgies of both Judaism and Christianity.  The book is actually a short collection of five poems in response to a national tragedy.  There is debate over which historical setting to which it is responding, but more than likely it was written in the aftermath of the Babylonian invasions of Jerusalem. (about 587 or 586 bce)  There was a real sense of just how God could have let this happen.  The primary speaker is an unknown narrator and the audience, too, is unidentified.  There is an overwhelming tone of sorrow and shame and a sense of nostalgia, a remembrance of what “was” (and perhaps what “could have been”).

Keep in mind that this is a people who have long seen themselves as “chosen” by God, as delivered by God from slavery in Egypt and led to a promised land, a people whose holy place was high upon a solid rock.  Israel had faith in God to protect them.  But now the temple mount has fallen (the first of several times, we know now).  The people of God had been given the promised land and they had filled it with their lives, their families, and their homes.  They had established the city of Jerusalem as the capital and built God a great Temple there.  But the city and the temple has now been desecrated by the Babylonians.  Life as they know it is gone.

The writings are riddled with the question “Where was God when all this was going on?”  The reading begins with a depiction of Jerusalem as one in misery, utterly alone, and with a precarious future.  When you get to the later verses, the grief almost becomes palpable—even the gates are desolate, perhaps hanging precariously from their hinges with no protection and no welcome.  And yet, there is a sense of owning of one’s guilt, of one’s part in what has happened.

National tragedies tend to render communities speechless.  The collective grief can be overwhelming.  We, too, have experienced that.  Lamentations names what is wrong, what is out of order in God’s world, what keeps human beings from thriving in all their creative potential.  Acts of lament expose these conditions.  They give us permission to cry, to grieve, perhaps to wail (the way African cultures do), to truly lament.

And even in the midst of darkness, the grieving community looks to God.  There is a realization that while circumstances may change, God is always present and is always steadfast.  Even in the darkest darkness, God is present.  The Book of Lamentations challenges us to reexamine what “blessed” means, what faith means.  It challenges our vision of that for which we hope—something beyond the way things were before.

Jesus wept, and in his weeping, he joined himself forever to those who mourn.

He stands now throughout all time, this Jesus weeping, with his arms about the weeping ones; “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”.  He stands with the mourners, for his name is God-with-us.  Jesus wept.

 “Blessed are those who weep, for they shall be comforted.”  Someday.  Someday God will wipe the tears from Rachel’s eyes.

 In the godforsaken, obscene quicksand of life, there is a deafening alleluia rising from the souls of those who weep, and of those who weep with those who weep.  If you watch, you will see that hand of God putting the stars back in their skies one by one.  (From Psalms of Lament, by Ann Weems, xvi-xvii)

  • What is your response to this passage?
  • What benefit do you see for laments, for the naming of what is wrong?
  • Why is this so difficult for our society today?
  • What message of hope does this hold for you?


NEW TESTAMENT:  2 Timothy 1: 1-14

Read the New Testament passage

As we have said, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are known as the “pastoral epistles”.  Their main purpose was to establish a pattern of ministry and church structure, along with a pattern of “truth”, faith, and sound teaching.  Many try to take these together, but this can be misleading because 2 Timothy has a little bit different scope, focusing primarily on personal character of believers, rather than the patterns of the church.  Most scholars assume that these letters were not written by Paul but, rather, by a student or disciple of Paul’s.

In this week’s passage, the writer refers to the faith in which one has grown, the faith of his ancestors and then proclaims it to be a faith that is continued through the apostolic order, of which the liturgies and order is a part.  The writer doesn’t mean this to be looked upon as a “hand-me-down” faith, but one that is already there.  In essence, this writing is not refuting the forms of worship of the day or of one’s history, but simply infusing them with the Christian spirit—“in Christ Jesus”.  The writer talks of “rekindling” the gift of God that is in each of us, a spark that has been there all along.

The second part of the reading begins with the admonishment “do not be ashamed.”  This is odd-sounding to us, but first-century Mediterranean culture was very much an “honor-shame” society.  The social ethos encouraged the pursuit of works of honor.  So the writer is using it to depict that not acting in accordance with God’s calling and with one’s faith would bring shame.  We are told to join in suffering for the Gospel.

This is sort of a creedal-type statement which is a confession of God (not of Christ).  It lays out the Gospel as an account not so much of what Christ has done as of what God has done through Christ.  Faith is also depicted as a “deposit”, something that one initially had that now needs to be increased. It’s hard, though, to not read this as if faith is more formalized.  Instead of believing “in”, it almost admonishes us to believe “that”.

Depicted here is a faith that cannot be separated from one’s faith tradition.  But it means making sure that the connections are upheld and maintained and then passed on to the next generation.  It speaks of faith as a connectedness, an ongoing relationship with those before us, those after us, and all of those with whom we share community in this moment.

The Apostle Paul understands that there is no inherent conflict between the personal and communal aspects of faith. No human being is born an orphan. We are all born into a family. The Bantus of South Africa say, Umuntu, ngamuntu, ngabantu — a person is a person because of other persons. We are born into relationship, we grow and live in relationship and we die in relationship. Our modern Western notion of personal independence and psychic autonomy distorts the truth about us. Transposed into African, the sophisticated Cartesian formulation Cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am,” would read Cognatus ergo sum, “I am related, therefore I am.” To the question “Who are you?” the African would answer, “I am my mother’s and father’s child, of the lineage of so-and-so, of the house of X and Y, of the tribe of Z.” By which time the impatient European or American has moved on to other matters. Yet the Bible is replete with such genealogical material, and even Jesus is situated in its repetitive detail.

Although faith challenges individuals, heroic individualism does not exhaust faith’s fullness and power. At its heart is the gift of memory, the ability to recall and reappropriate. Faith does not just arouse and satisfy the craving for individual gratification or fill our hunger for self-esteem, important as those things are. Faith connects us with others, grants us a name and an identity by which we can respond to God’s call, and assures us that others know that name. Thus is established the social roots of person-hood. When those roots are touched then the branches of my being stir in response. A baptismal is thus the symbol of our integrity, the cup of sacrament filled with the whole body. When Africans name a child at a dedication ceremony they think of it as giving life, the abundant life of relatedness.

And so the apostle affirms Timothy’s faith by a threefold naming — the names of his grandmother and mother and his own name. Wherever the faith has spread it has promoted and been promoted by this sense of names. As long as our names exist the church has hope of continuing community. (Lamin Sanneh, “Naming and the Act of Faith”, in The Christian Century, October 4, 1989, available at, accessed 29 Sept 2010)

  • What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  • What do you think of this depiction of faith?
  • What does the notion of “sound teaching” mean to you?
  • What does this idea of the “handing down of faith” mean for you?


GOSPEL:  Luke 17:5-10

Read the Gospel passage

The Gospel passage for this week begins with a discussion of faith that plays right into what we read in the Epistle passage.  This section (including the four verses that come before) pull together four units of sayings:  a warning against causing others to stumble, a challenge to be forgiving, a call to exercise faith, and a reminder of the duties of discipleship.  Then the passage itself starts out with a reference to increasing one’s faith.

It is important to look at what comes before this.  Last week’s Scripture reflected the story of the rich man and Lazarus; and then in the first few verses of the seventeenth chapter of Luke, there are these teachings related to our concerns for the little ones in this world, for the ways we injure and sin against each other, and the call to forgive.  Forgive…There are so many needs in the world.  There is so much conflict.  How can we make it through?  We begin to understand and identify with the disciples’ request:  “Increase our faith.”  Help us get through this; give us strength; make it better; we know that you can make it better.  Because, going back even farther, if we can’t forgive, then we become “occasions for stumbling” for someone else.  Lord, help us!  Help us do what is right!

After all, that’s what we should do.  But then the next part of the passage comes into play.  If one is only doing what he or she SHOULD do (as in the servant), then why would the result include a reward?  If one is meeting expectation, then one is really just average.  For the writer of Luke, forgiving is what we should do.  We are not owed anything for doing that.  It is who we are.  It is the expectation.  It reaps no reward.  It is faith that gets us where we need to be.  God’s favor is an act of grace—unearned, unmerited, and, usually, undeserved.  The place at the table is a gift; it is not earned.

The biggest problem here is that the disciples have made faith a commodity, something that can be measured.  We do it too.  And that doesn’t really work when it comes to faith.  Think about it.  Faith is faith.  If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, a tiny speck of a thing, you have faith.  And if you have faith enough to move mountains, to overcome anything, you have faith.  It’s all the same thing.

Maybe the question is not how much we have but what it is.  In our world today, we seem to be bombarded with a theology of certitude, sort of a “my faith’s bigger than your faith” mentality, as if living the right way and dressing the right way and thinking the right way and voting the right way makes us somehow more faithful than someone else.  We live as if being sure of what we know and what we believe means that we have more faith, means that we’re somehow better or more advanced than those who doubt and continue to search.  But, again, what is faith?  I think it is trust in something so much bigger than we are that we cannot imagine it.  I think it is accepting a certainty in the existence of something of which we are a little (or maybe a whole lot) uncertain.  And I think it is, finally, realizing that we are not in full control of our lives, or our world, or our destiny, and that what we do is only a small piece of this veritable tapestry that is our world.

The only certainty that we really have is that faith involves uncertainty.  We are not called to a blind and unexamined faith but one that is illumined with all that God calls us to encounter in life.  “Increase our faith?”   What does that mean?  Remember, faith is faith.  You could say, then, that merely desiring faith is faith.  And desiring to increase one’s faith is a faithful and faith-filled response to God’s calling into relationship.  This is not a commodity nor is it a finished product that we must work to obtain.  Faith is faith.  Desiring faith is faith.  And “having faith” is not about faith at all.  Flannery O’Connor once said that “when we get our spiritual house in order, we’ll be dead.  This goes on.  You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness.  Don’t expect faith to clear things up for you.  It is trust not certainty.”


  • What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  • How prevalent do you think the thinking that we “earn” God’s love or that we “earn” heaven is today? What does that say about our faith?
  • What is faith to you?



Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

There are two ways to slide easily through life:  to believe everything or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking. (Theodore Rubin)

Faith listens to life and hears something new. Faith drifts off during a sermon and lands on new terrain. Faith sings a new song and suddenly knows more. Faith feeds a stranger and responds differently to one’s own meal. Faith makes wild leaps, risks strange thoughts, dashes outside the box, asks foolish questions, hears unexpected voices. Little by little, faith’s “whole being” grows deeper and deeper, broader and broader.  (Tom Ehrich, 12/09/2005, Listening Faith:  Teens and Others)

It’s when we learn faith that happiness comes—real happiness, that underlying descant of the soul that tells us over and over again that what is, in some strange, unexplainable way, is good.  Most of all, faith tells us that what is, is more than good.  It is becoming always better.  In ways we never thought possible.  And how can that be?  Because God’s ways are not our ways.  It is in the depths of darkness that we learn faith; it is in retrospect that we come to recognize love in darkness.  (Joan Chittister, Called to Question, 213)



Plunge into the Ocean of Love, where heart meets Heart, Where sorrows are comforted and wounds are mended.  There, melodies of sadness mingle with dolphin songs of joy; Past fears dissolve in deep harmonic tones, the future—pure mystery.  For eternal moments lived in total surrender glide smoothly over troubled waters.

Hide not from Love, O friends, sink not into the sea of despair, the mire of hatred.  Awaken, O my heart, that I drown not in fear!  Too long have I sailed where’ere the winds have blown!  Drop anchor!  O, Heart of all hearts, set a clear course, that I might follow!  Guide me to the Promised Shore!

Amen. (Nan Merrill, Psalms for Praying:  An Invitation to Wholeness, Psalm 137, p. 288.)



Proper 6B: Perfectly Ordinary

Scattering SeedsOLD TESTAMENT: 1 Samuel 15: 34-16:13

To read the Old Testament Lectionary passage, click here

The story depicted in the books of Samuel tell of a great change in the way that Israel will be governed—from tribes and judges to very intricate government structures, the creating of an empire. Samuel was the last of the judges. The books tell us how Saul first became king and was commissioned to defeat the Philistines. After the disintegration of Saul’s physical and mental health, David comes onto the scene. The previous section 1 Sam 8:1-15:35 is focused on the rise and kingship of Saul. Saul, like David is anointed as King and is successful against the Philistines. However, he appears to anger Samuel by his actions and we see the start of his rejection as the future dynasty of Judah. We then move into the 1 Sam 16 which tells us about the rise of David and the final downfall of Saul.

The choosing of David has always been an interesting passage. You can imagine old Jesse of Bethlehem so thankful that his eldest son would finally have a job. So he pushes Eliab to the front of the line. I mean, it all made sense. He was fit to be king. But he was rejected. Well, surprising, but there are other sons. So he called Abinidab. And Shammah. Both rejected. And then, one at a time, he sent four others. OK, this is getting ridiculous. None of them are accepted! When Samuel asked for Jesse’s younger son, Jesse was surprised. He hadn’t even thought about his youngest. In fact, he had sent him out to keep the sheep while the other brothers, I suppose, were job-hunting.

The passage should probably be read as a story rather than an historical account. But we have the advantage. We know that David is the one who will be chosen. Essentially, God’s choices are not the ones that always make sense to us. They do not always align with what we have planned, with who or what “makes sense”. God’s criteria are not the richest, or the most beautiful, or even the most fitting. God’s criteria are God’s.

Over and over again in this passage, the act of “human-seeing” is contrasted with the act of “God-seeing”. When Eliab came before the elders, the point was made not to look on his appearance; essentially, to not look at him the way we humans normally do. It almost sounds as if appearance was all he really had going for him. And God was looking for something more to lead the people. And yet, when David was chosen, even his physical characteristics are laid out. Perhaps in some way this “human-seeing” finally aligned with the “God-seeing.” Or maybe, just maybe, when the choice is the right one, we finally become at least a little able to see the way God sees.

And so, it says, David is anointed. Going forward, he was the one. It wouldn’t mean that life would be easy; we know, in fact, that David had many problems ahead and that many were brought on by himself and his own actions. Being anointed rather means being thrust into all that is life—challenges and beauty, perils and blessings. It means doing what one is called to do and being able to do just that. God saw that. Maybe we need to just start trusting what God sees and have faith in the faith that God puts in us.


  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What do you think “God’s criteria” for choosing are?
  3. What parallels do you see with today?
  4. Where do you see yourself in this passage?


NEW TESTAMENT: 2 Corinthians 5: 6-17

To read the Lectionary Epistle passage, click here

The key to understanding these chapters of 2 Corinthians is to recognize that Paul faces criticism because of his ministry. It is personal and probably also directed against his particular theology. His opponents who have infiltrated Corinth sought to undermine him at a number of points. They apparently make much of their successes. They live “victorious Christian lives”, whereas Paul shows many signs of being weak and vulnerable.

Paul has confidence to live in the here and now, knowing that he has not arrived. He also has confidence in a future beyond this life, which he imagines, using the notion of a new kind of human embodiment. He has explained this in the previous passage. It is typical, however, that he insists that the main thing for him is not his state of happiness in his earthly human body or in another realm, but living a life that pleases God. That relationship matters most. Paul takes his relationship with God seriously – with awe. It is not that Paul is acting out of fear (in his own interests). That kind of motivation cannot be sustained. In 5:11 he speaks of a total transparency and hopes the Corinthians will recognize it and see the contrast with those who have been playing games with them at his expense. Paul has thought his ministry through; his faith has freed him from his own needs so that he can minister to others.

Paul claims that focusing on the purely human aspect of Christ misses the point. The “new creation” is a new mindset, a new way of looking at ministry, a new way of looking at ourselves, and a new way, even, of looking at God. In fact, this new mindset completely changes how Paul views death and, in turn, how he views life. This is not Paul’s way of denigrating the body. It is in fact an articulation of God’s promise that everything will be made new, that everything will be and become a new creation. Paul doesn’t really worry about a timeline here. It’s more a view that this new creation has already begun, has already broken in and disrupted our lives. He doesn’t attempt to explain exactly what happens but rather leaves us with the promise that it will.

There is a lot in this passage. There is comfort for those who are grieving loss. But there is also a calling for us to view the world differently, to, as the Old Testament passage depicts, live our lives as “God-seeing” people in a very human, very ordinary world.


Arguing with Paul (2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17)

by Michael A. King

Michael A. King is pastor of Spring Mount Mennonite Church In Spring Mount, Pennsylvania, and owner of Cascadia Publishing House. This article appeared in The Christian Century, June 13, 2006, p. 18. Copyright by the Christian Century Foundation; used by permission. Current articles and subscriptions information can be found at This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.

When I read the lectionary texts for this week, I was disappointed. Give me texts of David sinning, Amos raging against the “cows” of Bashan or Jesus again in trouble for loving outcasts. These I can run with. But don’t give me Paul always confident, walking by faith and not sight, apparently really feeling he’d rather be at home with the Lord than in his body, regarding no one from a human point of view, celebrating that “in Christ there is a new creation. everything old has passed away — see, everything has become new!” Don’t give me texts like that because my life so often clashes with them. I remember my boyhood in my missionary family amid the ceaseless quest of Christians around me to live in the new creation. I haven’t forgotten how guilty that boy felt, stuck in his trash-filled old humanity — unsure how to reconcile what seemed to him the ethereality of Christian living with a body that seemed always to run hot when it was supposed to run cold or cool when it was supposed to run warm.

Nor will I forget the day I casually asked my mother how a relative had died, back when I was too young to remember. I expected to hear about cancer or heart trouble. No. He had gone out to the fields with his hunting gun and had shot himself. Some who loved him found out how he died only when they came to view his body. In those days and among those Christians committed to their new beings in Christ, no one knew how to make human space for suicide. They knew only to grow scar tissue around the wound and continue on in new creation. But as I grew up, I heard my very bones groaning that what would kill me was being other than human. I struggled to believe that anything could be made new. How could any of us trust that “everything has become new” when it was precisely such faith that helped kill my relative? Depression and faith had fed each other. Awareness of how far short of the new creation he fell had fueled his guilt and misery, even as he interpreted the depressive attacks as failure to live in Christ.

Because Paul is part of God-breathed scripture, I will wrestle with what I can learn from his wish to be away from his body, at home with Christ, made new. But boy does he cut against my grain! How do we give up the human point of view without giving up the truth about ourselves as human beings? My truth is that I don’t want to leave my body or its loves. I wouldn’t rather be at home with the Lord; I want to be right here! I love this world. The older I get the more I love elemental things: leaves shimmering in the breeze at sunset; morning coffee with my wife; a daughter’s impish smile; cruising in the 1990 Subaru I bought from my dad, with the sunroof open, my dad’s spirit still in the car. Why would I want a point of view that didn’t cling to such things?

So am I a bad Christian? I have often thought so. Good Christians are like the ones I saw this morning leaving a Bible study at Vernfield Restaurant, walking out with Bibles in hand. I bear them no ill will, but I don’t want to spend hours with men helping each other be new creations. I want to be in my Subaru, smiling up through the roof not at Christ but at blue trimmed with clouds. Then I thought of Angie, a waitress at the restaurant, who greeted me when I arrived: “Well, hello, dear,” she said. “Welcome to your office.” We both laughed as I went to the table that has indeed become my office — there where I visit with congregants in a down-home setting well suited to probing human truths and new creations.

I thought of Ike, whom I’ve often met there, and of the time we debated whether he was ready to become a Mennonite. If he had to be perfect like it seemed to him Mennonites are, then no way! “Perfect” wasn’t in him. But he’d be glad to start traveling toward Christ and see where it got him. So to the shock of many, particularly himself, he became a Mennonite. I thought of the next morning, when I planned to meet Ike. Ike would report on his latest struggle to be a Mennonite Christian. Amid laughter, because you can’t be with wild Ike without laughing, we’d consider his options. Like the time he reported that his ex had stolen wood from his woodpile. And we pondered what might happen if instead of demanding his wood back he added more to her pile.

Ike is not Paul, and neither am I. Maybe new creation language would sing to us too if we had raged against Christ before our human point of view burned up on the Damascus Road. But both Ike and I have experienced the new creation as a club that can be used, often with the best of intentions, to assault our human truths and cause lies, pain and sometimes even death. So we don’t talk much about being new creations. We look for Christ within our human lives rather than try to leave our human lives to be with Christ. Still, how often do we ask, “What does Jesus teach about this? How is his Spirit nudging there? What would Paul say if writing to us? If we tried that instead of this same-old same-old, what would happen then?” So maybe in our way we’re trying to get where Paul wants to go. And as much as I don’t want to leave this body, I do hope that when I’m dragged out — kicking and screaming all the way — at home with the Lord is where I’ll be.


  1. How does this passage speak to you?
  2. What happens if we focus solely on the human aspect of Jesus? What do we miss?
  3. What does the term “new creation” mean for you?
  4. What does Paul’s call for confidence in that Creation mean for you?


 GOSPEL: Mark 4: 26-34

To read the Lectionary Gospel passage, click here

Our Gospel reading for today is, if you’ll excuse the pun, ripe with planting and harvest images. It is the epitome of that which we cannot control, for which we cannot plan. Oh sure, we can go and buy a plant, or three, or a whole row. If we desired, we could plant a whole crop. We can plant it, and feed it, and water it. We can prune it and cover it and open its branches to the sun. We can go buy a book to research the best environment and the best care that we can give our plant, to find out the best height to which it should grow before we cut it back and what the best season to do that would be. But, regardless of how much we plan and how much we do, we cannot make our plant grow. Like the passage says, the earth produces of itself. God has set Creation in motion, a Creation that cycles through life and death and life again, a Creation that is never-ending. And even though we are called to be good stewards, to, literally, take dominion over it, to do things to help it along, the harvest will come when the harvest will come. We are not called to plan its completion but rather we are invited to participate in its Creation, to be a part of bringing in the fullness of the Kingdom of God.

According to the writer known as Mark, Jesus tells us that this is what the Kingdom of God is like. The planter scatters the seed and then goes on about business, trusting that the seed will sprout and the grain will come to be. The earth produces of itself. The Greek could be translated as “automatic”. It’s just going to happen, just as God has promised, just as God has planned. We don’t really understand it. We understand WHAT happens. We know germination and photosynthesis.   But it isn’t really ours to understand. I guess we’ll just have to chalk it up to grace. I mean, it’s pretty ordinary, when you think about it. It happens every day. There’s nothing strange about it. We learned the process in Biology class. But somewhere along the way, the ordinary becomes extraordinary. I mean, really, this seed becomes a plant and grows and produces fruit or flowers or something that the earth needs, something that we need. THAT is what our faith journey is all about.

The passage says that too, using yet another agricultural image that is familiar to all of us. Once again we have a seed, but this time, it is a specific seed, a tiny, tiny mustard seed. It’s really nothing more than a spec. Now often when we read of the mustard seed, we somehow conjure up this image of this tiny, spec of a seed that grows into a mighty tree. The parable is often used to depict that even a tiny spec of faith can do mighty things. And while I think that’s noble and all, I’m going to take us in a slightly different direction.

First of all, that tiny mustard seed, probably one to two millimeters in diameter, does not, no matter how hard it tries, grow into a majestic redwood. This is not magic. Rather, it grows into an ordinary bush. And that ordinary bush produces an ordinary harvest which, eventually, ends up as a spread on our sandwich. There’s nothing really surprising about the outcome. It’s what is supposed to happen. It’s what God has promised.

Maybe the Parable of the Mustard Seed was never meant to be a depiction of our faith at all; maybe instead Jesus was trying to show us that in which we are called to put our faith. God has laid out this beautiful, remarkable, ordinary world. We can’t plan for all of it, no matter how hard we try. We don’t know when the sun will shine or when the rain will fall. We don’t know whether or not our plant will become frail or diseased or when it will grow into what we hope like everything it will be. We don’t know if our plant will grow to be harvested into that lovely spicy brown condiment or if it will die far too soon. We can’t control or plan for any of that.

But the promise is that God takes the ordinary things that make up our life and when it’s all said and done, they become extra-ordinary. The passage doesn’t say that the mustard seed becomes a tree. It, rather, becomes the greatest of shrubs. It becomes exactly what it’s supposed to be—the ordinary for which we’ve planned with something extra that can only be a touch of the Divine. It is the way that all ordinary things become extra-ordinary.

These two parables defy failure—failure that we sometimes feel in this world and within our own lives. They have to do with shifting focus from ourselves to the world around us. The truth is, we really don’t know HOW seed sprouts; we just know that it does. The parables invite us to believe that God’s reign will happen, whether or not we understand it.

This is not a sort of naïve optimism. Rather, they encourage us to defy hopelessness and to believe that nothing will serve the interests of those who surround us, our planet and ourselves, better than to allow ourselves to be part of God’s reign, or in less “real” terms, God’s life and love in the world even as we do not yet know it.

  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What does “hope” mean for you?
  3. What does “knowing” have to do with belief?
  4. What does this say about our ordinary lives?


Some Quotes for Further Reflection:


God took delight in creation, and surely I should do the same—seeing myself as God sees me, with the same delight. Do I yet believe in the delight-fullness of my own self? And yet also draw back and realize that in the end I am mystery. (Esther de Waal, Lost in Wonder, 31)


We of the modern time live much more in the attitude of interrogation than of exclamation. We so blur our world with question marks that we lose the sense of wonder and sometimes even of vision. It is refreshing to note how frequently the great spiritual teachers of the New Testament introduce their message with the world “behold!” They speak because they see and they want their hearers and their readers to see. Their “behold” is more than an interjection—it has the force of an imperative, as though they would say: ‘Just see what I see. Open your eyes to the full meaning of what is before you, which is the method of all true teachers. (Rufus Jones)

Learn to see and then you’ll know that there is no end to the new worlds of our vision. (Carlos Castaneda)




I am here in this solitude before you, and I am glad because you see me here. For, it is here, I think, that you want to see me and I am seen by you. My being here is a response you have asked of me, to something I have not clearly heard. But I have responded…You have called me here to be repeatedly born in the Spirit as your child. Repeatedly born in light, in unknowing, in faith, in awareness, in gratitude, in poverty, in presence, and in praise. Amen. (Thomas Merton)