God’s Continual Revealing of the Kingdom as Mustard Seed and Leaven, 17th Monday (I), July 31, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
17th Monday of Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola
July 31, 2017
Ex 32:15-24, Ps 106, Mt 13:31-35


To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily,  please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • At the end of the Gospel today, St. Matthew tells us, “All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. He spoke to them only in parables, to fulfill what had been said through the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation of the world.'” Last week, at the beginning of Jesus’ eight parables of the Kingdom, we saw that on reason he spoke in Parables was to test our soil, to see whether we’re willing to do the work to understand the meaning with our hearts, apply it to our life, be converted and be saved. Today we see that it is a means to announce what is hidden from the foundation of the world. The kingdom of God has been hidden in plain sight, because it has been like a mustard seed waiting to grow or leaven ready to raise the dough. In the Parable of the Sower and the Seed last week, Jesus described the power of the seed when it hits good — receptive and responsive — soil: it can produce abundant fruit, 30, 60 and 100 fold over.  In the Parable of the Mustard Seed, we see what can happen in the kingdom when the power of the Word meets with receptive and responsive faith: what starts as a tiny seed can become a huge shrub.
  • This was likely a very consoling and personal message for the first disciples of Jesus. They likely felt themselves a very small minority surrounded by hostile forces. The Scribes, Pharisees and Herodians were already conspiring to kill Jesus their Shepherd. They saw the power of the Roman army, they saw the hostility of the religious leaders, they faced the rejection of those in the cities to whom they had gone to preach who met them with hardened soil by the wayside, and they knew their human abilities and probably tempted on occasion to think that what they were about was a hopeless enterprise. Jesus was reminding them that even though the kingdom starts small, it will become big because of the intrinsic power working through those with faith. Jesus would say elsewhere that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed we could move mountain ranges into the sea. We see this truth about the growth of the kingdom, of course, with the fiat of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that changed the history of the world. We see it with what the Lord was able to do beginning with the 11 faithful apostles. We see it in the history of many missions, parishes and dioceses, like what is now occurring in so many African countries and even in our country in the South. We see it in the history of many religious orders. We see it in the Benedictines, the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Daughters of Charity, the Missionaries of Charity, and continuously with the Sisters of Life.
  • Today we have a chance to ponder it in the Jesuits, which are now the largest single male religious order of priests and brothers in the world (the Franciscans have more when you consider the many sub-branches of the Franciscans), numbering almost 16,000 today and 30 years ago nearly 28,000. It all started with an injury on the battlefield… Until he was 30, St. Ignatius sought his own glory, hungering after worldly honor to placate his vanity in war. But then, in a battle, he had his left leg shattered by a cannonball, and that was the greatest gift he could have received at the time. While he was convalescing, after exhausting all the romances and knights’ tales he had in his castle, he read a book on the lives of the saints and was pierced by his own shallowness in compared to their substance. He was moved by the saints’ valor and heroism. He grasped that they were fighting the good fight in the battle that counted most. And he asked one of the most important questions in the history of hagiography: “Why can’t I do what Francis of Assisi did? Why can’t I do what Dominic of Guzman did?” He knew that they were men just like him, but men who said yes to God, men who did the Lord’s work and allowed the Lord to work through them — and the Lord did the rest, in such a way that their yeses were echoed by tens of thousands in service of God and of all those he is calling into his kingdom. Ignatius made the commitment to serve the true King and help extend his kingdom just as Francis and Dominic had done. His transformation was arduous. He spent nine months in a cave in Manresa praying, turning his wish into a firm will, allowing God to do the difficult work of removing from his life whatever was incompatible with the calling. The interior struggles he went through as he pondered his sinfulness and Christ’s beauty eventually became his famous Spiritual Exercises, the most popular and influential retreat manual in history. He then knew he would need an education to be of much use, so, in his 30s, he returned to grammar school with young children in order to learn Latin before going for advanced degrees in universities. It was at the famous University of Paris that he met the other first Jesuits, including his roommates, the future St. Francis Xavier and St. Peter Favre, and he helped them to become truly good soil, leaven and seed the Lord could so in the world — and they became the heralds of the King and helped to call the whole Church back to God’s original building plans after the scandals that led to the Protestant Reformation. Their lives in cooperation to God’s grace was done all for God’s greater glory and they continue that maximal glorification with God’s heavenly throne. And what they started became so big that so many have been able to rest in its branches, from peoples who had never heard the Gospel, to university students and seminarians, to the poor, even to kings and leaders. In the Jesuits once again we see an illustration of the parable of the mustard seed, something that has been repeated many times over now so that we should have total confidence in it.
  • For this type of growth to occur, however, we need to understand something important about the other parable Jesus gives: that of the leaven. We know that just a little bit of leaven is needed to leaven the whole dough, but leaven is necessary. One Christian on a street, or in a work place, or in a family, or in a parish can have a dramatic impact. But there’s another type of leaven at work. Jesus would warn the disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod, the hypocritical rigorists or the laxists. Just like good leaven can leaven the dough, so one bad apple can spoil the whole bushel. To see mustard side growth there needs to be good leaven.
  • We see the contrast between good and bad leaven in today’s first reading in the contrast between Moses and his brother, Aaron, the first priest of the new Mosaic dispensation. While Moses was up on Mt. Sinai praying and receiving the Ten Commandments, they people grew impatient and wanted to have something tangible to worship. They wanted a golden calf, an image of what they were adoring and wanted to become: they were hungering ultimately to live according to animal instincts rather than God’s law and to place their treasure in money rather than in God. Aaron, rather than lead and correct them, sought to please their lower desires. Exodus says that Aaron “let the people run wild” (Ex 32:25). He had them bring all of their gold jewelry, put it in the furnace, and then — in the lamest excuse of all time said — and “this calf came out.” He accepted no responsibility. Moses didn’t let him off the hook with an excuse that even the most pathetic teenagers wouldn’t have attempted: “What did this people ever do to you that you should lead them into so grave a sin?” He had the duty to lead them to God as a priest and instead he fashioned an idol, built an altar to it and said, “Tomorrow we will have a feast to the Lord.” He led them in the worship of a false god. And his bad leaven spoiled the Israelites.
  • We see, on the other hand, Moses’ good leaven. In contrast to Aaron’s cowardice, we see in him total self-sacrificial courage. Even though he wasn’t guilty in the least of the sins of the Israelites, he took responsibility for them and went before the Lord begging him to be merciful, even saying that if he couldn’t spare them out of justice, to hold him accountable and strike him out of the book of life. The leaven that will help the kingdom grow happens when people take personal responsibility for the salvation of others, who do reparation for their sins, who pray for them, who seek to take them from the worship of various idols to the worship in cult and life of the one true God. In this intercession, Moses was a type pointing to Jesus who later would intercede for us in the same way, allowing himself to be struck down to take away our sins, so that our idol worship — which summarizes all our sins — would be forgiven. Jesus has placed that leaven in us and he wants our faith to rise so that others can take a pinch of us and place it in other dough to make it rise.
  • This whole mystery of starting small and growing big is summarized in the Mass. If we receive even a little piece of the Host within us, we receive God and all his power. He wants to grow in us from that seeming small start to transform us in such a way that with him living in us we might leaven the whole world. He seeks to help us clean out the old leaven at the beginning of Mass so that our hearts, souls and our lives might all be lifted up to the Lord. This is the way by which in our life, from a tiny mustard seed, this grain of wheat (Jn 12:24), we might relive in us the full meaning of the Parables Jesus today proclaims. This was the heart of St. Ignatius’ life, the place where he would come each day to renew his choice to stand and fight under the banner of Christ the King. This was the place in which he would pray, “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will. All I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.” This is the place in which he would say, with the words of the Anima Christi, “Body of Christ, save me. Blood of Christ, inebriate me. … O Good Jesus, suffer me not to be separated from thee.” This is where we will learn how to do what Dominic, Francis, Ignatius and the saints have done, and allow the growth of the Kingdom, hidden since the foundation of the world, to happen through our cooperation with Christ the King’s eternal plan!

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 EX 32:15-24, 30-34

Moses turned and came down the mountain
with the two tablets of the commandments in his hands,
tablets that were written on both sides, front and back;
tablets that were made by God,
having inscriptions on them that were engraved by God himself.
Now, when Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting,
he said to Moses, “That sounds like a battle in the camp.”
But Moses answered, “It does not sound like cries of victory,
nor does it sound like cries of defeat;
the sounds that I hear are cries of revelry.”
As he drew near the camp, he saw the calf and the dancing.
With that, Moses’ wrath flared up, so that he threw the tablets down
and broke them on the base of the mountain.
Taking the calf they had made, he fused it in the fire
and then ground it down to powder,
which he scattered on the water and made the children of Israel drink.
Moses asked Aaron, “What did this people ever do to you
that you should lead them into so grave a sin?”
Aaron replied, “Let not my lord be angry.
You know well enough how prone the people are to evil.
They said to me, ‘Make us a god to be our leader;
as for the man Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt,
we do not know what has happened to him.’
So I told them, ‘Let anyone who has gold jewelry take it off.’
They gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and this calf came out.”
On the next day Moses said to the people,
“You have committed a grave sin.
I will go up to the LORD, then;
perhaps I may be able to make atonement for your sin.”
So Moses went back to the LORD and said,
“Ah, this people has indeed committed a grave sin
in making a god of gold for themselves!
If you would only forgive their sin!
If you will not, then strike me out of the book that you have written.”
The LORD answered, “Him only who has sinned against me
will I strike out of my book.
Now, go and lead the people to the place I have told you.
My angel will go before you.
When it is time for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 106:19-20, 21-22, 23

R. (1a) Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
Our fathers made a calf in Horeb
and adored a molten image;
They exchanged their glory
for the image of a grass-eating bullock.
R. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
They forgot the God who had saved them,
who had done great deeds in Egypt,
Wondrous deeds in the land of Ham,
terrible things at the Red Sea.
R. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
Then he spoke of exterminating them,
but Moses, his chosen one,
Withstood him in the breach
to turn back his destructive wrath.
R. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.

Alleluia JAS 1:18

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Father willed to give us birth by the word of truth
that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 13:31-35

Jesus proposed a parable to the crowds.
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed
that a person took and sowed in a field.
It is the smallest of all the seeds,
yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants.
It becomes a large bush,
and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.”
He spoke to them another parable.
“The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast
that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour
until the whole batch was leavened.”
All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables.
He spoke to them only in parables,
to fulfill what had been said through the prophet:I will open my mouth in parables,
I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation of the world.