Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
“With many such parables [Jesus] spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.” Sometimes people claim that God so transcends the world that we can know nothing about him. This claim is right, up to a point: God is always ever greater (“Deus semper major” as Pope Francis likes to say, with a nod to Ignatius of Loyola). But it is not true that we can know nothing about God, because if God himself wishes to make himself known to us, he is certainly capable of doing so. Pope Francis uses another Latin phrase to explain this in light of the teaching of Ignatius of Loyola, “non coerceri a maximo, sed contineri a minimo divinum est” (“not to be limited by the greatest and yet to be contained in the tiniest—this is the divine”). We see this in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. The inaccessible God reveals himself—not aspects of himself, but his very self—in the fleshy concreteness of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, God speaks to us, and he does so in a way that we can understand, because God speaks to be understood. Jesus speaks in parables so that our eyes may be opened in order that we might encounter and truly know the Word made flesh in the fleshy (i.e. concrete) realities of our daily lives.
It is in the concrete fleshiness of our daily lives that we discover how mysterious God truly is. If God reveals himself through the world around us, but then allows us to to have “dominion” over created things (as we do in science, for example), then it would seem that “knowing” God would simply be a matter of “figuring God out” like a math problem. Once we have “solved the God problem” then we no longer need God and can take God’s place, building the “kingdom” that God obviously didn’t get right the first time. But all this is nothing more than (unhelpful) wishful thinking. When we return to the concrete fleshiness of Jesus’ parables, we discover that God is nothing like this abstraction that exists only in our (collective) mind. The kingdom of God “is like a mustard seed.” What do we really know about a mustard seed? We can plant it, we can document its growth, and we can benefit from what it offers, as the birds in Jesus’ parable do. But the growth is not our work, though we can do much to assist the plant in growing. The life, the growth, the wonder of this tree surpasses us: and it is just a mustard tree! In like manner, the life of the kingdom comes not from us but from God, though we can do much to dispose the ground upon which the seed of God’s Word may fall. Let us ask the Lord for the grace to live our lives not as a problem to be solved in ourselves, but as parables to be revealed in God.