Responsible versus Scandalizing Leaven, 17th Monday (I), July 27, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Church of the Holy Family, Manhattan
17th Monday of Ordinary Time, Year I
July 27, 2015
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: 

  • 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 today, 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 religious orders. We see it in the history of many missions, parishes and dioceses. The parable of the mustard seed has been repeated many times over now so that we should have even greater confidence in it.
  • But for this type of growth to occur, 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. 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 leave at the beginning of Mass so that our hearts, souls and our lives might all be lifted up to the Lord. Let us receive this gift, this tiny mustard seed, this grain of wheat (Jn 12:24), on good soil so that we might relive in us the full meaning of the Parables Jesus today proclaims.

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.