What can we say the kingdom of God is like? What parable can we find for it? It is like a mustard seed which at the time of its sowing in the soil is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade. (Mark 4:30-32)
What is this kingdom of God that Jesus keeps talking about in parables? Jesus is the seed described in John 12:24.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Jesus becomes that ‘smallest of all the seeds’ in his humiliation and death, but what follows is the Resurrection and the expansion of his Kingdom, the Church. We see this pattern repeated in so many ways in church history. Fr Barron illustrates this in his homily for today with the examples of Charles Lwanga, Mother Theresa and St Francis of Assisi.
It’s not only the membership of the church that grows like a mustard tree, but also our understanding of Jesus’ teaching. This is the image that Blessed John Henry Newman used in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. I have heard the Catholic Church described by Protestants as ‘legalistic’. It seems that part of the objection is that we have too much doctrine. But if we love the Lord, then exploring his word results in a natural growth in our understanding. New understandings never contradict previous understandings, but are brought forth from them in the same way that advances in the deductive sciences are made: by starting on the trunk of the tree with known knowns, and pursuing them along the branches and smaller twigs to areas which require further elucidation. In this way, the tree keeps becoming more all-encompassing. So, for example, the idea of Mary as the Mother of God (Theotokos) was premised on the prior understanding that Jesus the man was also fully Divine, and that he had two natures in one person: a divine nature and a human nature united in a ‘mystical union’ or hypostatic union. This doctrine was only formally defined at the First Council of Ephesus (431) and the Council of Chalcedon (451) as a response to Nestorianism which held that Jesus was not the same as the eternal Word of God, he was just a human who had received divinity from the Father. [For more on Newman’s concept of the Development of Doctrine, go here.]
Because new understandings must be consistent with previous understandings, the Church cannot change its teaching on Marriage, no matter what pressures are brought to bear by the culture. That is the beauty of the Catholic Church: consistent in its teachings from the Apostolic era until today. That is why Archbishop Costelloe has felt it necessary to reiterate the Church’s teaching during the current debate on same-sex marriage in Australia. A pastoral letter will be given out today at all Masses explaining the Church’s position. You can read it here: Same-sex Marriage Pastoral Letter FINAL
Please also read the ‘Don’t Mess with Marriage‘ document from the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Well done to the Bishops! You may well find that the media and the same-sex lobbyists want to crucify you too, but stand firm!
Today’s Mass readings (Australia)
Word format:Year B 11th Sunday 2015
Pdf format: Year B 11th Sunday 2015