To the world you are just one person (a nobody) … but to one person you may be the world
At first glance, the First Reading seems remote from reality. However, it says: “from the highest branch I will take a shoot”. What is at the top of every growing tree?
The newest shoots are at the top: tender, fresh, energetic. The tree is reaching up to the sun or, at least, to rise above the other trees around it to ensure it can feel the sun in its life.
To take a shoot from the highest branch is a sacrifice for the tree… not to mention a serious break for the tender shoot. It’s like a parent releasing their child to go into the world. The child now loses the security and source of food from the mother tree.
Some tender shoots die because they are not well planted, due to a lack of training or the poor soil around. In the same way, children also die when they are not properly “educated” by their family and community, or they get mixed-up in bad company who look “exciting”.
Ezekiel says: “I will plant it on the high mountain of Israel. It will sprout branches and bear fruit,” The tender shoot, when it is replanted now has to struggle to grow into a new tree.
Jesus, the tender shoot, lived secure in the home of Mary and Joseph, but allowed himself to “become a noble cedar. Every kind of bird will live beneath it, every winged creature rest in the shade of its branches.”
Christ, the Son of God, could also be termed a “tender shoot” in Heaven, but became a noble cedar on earth.
This is the life cycle for all of us: when we are beautiful, tender shoots, we are called to “break away” and start a new life and family. It’s not easy, but the sacrifices of today bring many blessings for tomorrow.
We only have to look at our parents who sacrificed so much to allow us to grow up. Hopefully we become a blessing for them as they grow older.
Our parents help us understand what St Paul is trying to teach us in the 2nd Reading: “to live in the body means to be exiled from the Lord”. If our parent(s) live(d) for themselves and their own pleasures, we wouldn’t have received all the blessings we have done from their sacrifices.
To live outside the body, is not to forget about our body, but move beyond it: as Fr Richard Rohr OFM says, constant pleasure seeking (in the body) is to remain at the lizard brain level.
To move beyond our body is to seek the good of others, and in so doing we receive from those others, the nourishment needed for our soul/ spirit/ life force: the nourishment needed to get us through difficult times of struggle and disappointment, and still be happy!
The Gospel focus on seeds and growth develops the message of God’s hidden power at work in our lives, in and through even the smallest acts of goodness.
The mustard seed encourages us to realise that an act of kindness today for someone, may be the cause of our greatest blessing in years to come. In Kenya, many young people from simple backgrounds have been assisted by someone to get an education.
Later, that boy or girl becomes a Doctor or a rich business man and may bless that someone with health care or a new house. That “someone” didn’t help the young person expecting to get a blessing: just the joy of seeing them succeed and become good community members.
It doesn’t matter how small your act of kindness is, it will be have a mustard tree effect: blessing many others. As Jesus said: “the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know”. Meaning, don’t worry how the act of kindness will grow into something life-giving, just do it and trust that God is guiding that gift/ action to a rich harvest for the community.
You remember how Ezekiel said: “I will plant it on the high mountain of Israel.” The mountain symbolises closeness to God.
For us, it is not about the location of our actions, but the impact of our actions: to the world you are just one person; but to one person you may be the world [God].
If you just live for today: then we’re living in the body, and will soon be exiled from the Lord. Exiled means: depressed; lacking meaning and direction in life; rarely feeling true joy. Then, we become great complainers and gossipers, and soon lose our friends and colleagues.
Let’s live for today and tomorrow: living beyond our bodies and remain united with the Lord. United means: hopeful, having meaning and direction in life, and often joyful. Then we become people who help/ praise/ encourage others, and gain many friends and colleagues.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI