Mustard Seed Redeux
by Eric Santillan
It is the nature of man to be naturally drawn to the best, the biggest, the brightest, the most beautiful or handsome, the fairest, the most popular. That is why show business is one of the most luctrative businesses around. That is why Vicky Belo could command top peso for her services. That is why our senators love to be in the spotlight and act like litigators instead of judges.
And yet one of the more popular stories in the Gospels is the parable of the mustard seed. In it, Jesus talks about how the Kingdom of Heaven starts from humble beginnings- a mustard seed that goes on to become one of the biggest herbs. This story is countercultural in at least two ways. First, contrary to our tendency for superlatives, the story reminds us that many things in life begin small. Second, the mustard seed is really a fast growing plant–in fact, it has been called a malignant weed by some–that has takeover properties (it “creeps” on other plants and takes over).
Stories are usually about the grand. Movies have dramatic music that crescendos and make us cry. News goes for the extremes of bizaare and beautiful to sell. The counter revolution that the mustard seed reminds us is the revolution of the silent, the constant, the normal, the every day. It reminds us: there, in the everyday, is where the real battle is. There, in the normal, in the boring, is where the great begins. There, in a dark cold night, like all other dark cold nights, in the middle of a town called Bethlehem, like any other town, is where Jesus was born. Heroes are not born in one instance of glory, they make decisions every single day that eventually lead them to that ultimate point of no return. In a sense, that final moment of offering is really just a logical conclusion to a life well lived in the day to day.
One of the most striking images of the Japan disaster was that of cars (patiently?) waiting in line to make a u-turn in a bridge even as the tsunami was raging. When worse comes to worst, what you do every single day kicks in. Or a Jesuit named Richie Fernando who died saving lives in Cambodia. An angry student had brought a hand granade to class; and while instinct would tell you to run and save your life, he did the very opposite– he ran TO the student to stop him. It was that grand gesture that people celebrate. But what is not seen is how Richie lived his life every day before that final moment. How he was very generous and forgiving. How just coming to Cambodia was already a sacrifice. In that one split second, that fundamental option to offer one’s life instead of preserving it ran its course. When worse comes to worst, what you do every single day kicks in, and like a malignant weed, takes over.
Just like a mustard seed.