Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 16, 2024

June 16, 2024

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June 16, 2024

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Kathleen

Kathleen

O'Brien

O'Brien

About two years ago I made one of the largest moves of my life. I left my family and my home in the Midwest to move to California; more specifically the city of Berkeley. I fell in love with this place, this land, and discovered a whole new kind of “West.” The sights, smells, people, landscapes, and ideas I have encountered here have made me even more aware of God's presence in each moment of life. To be honest though, nothing has quite opened me up spiritually as much as my beloved and glorious trips to a local grocery store called the Berkeley Bowl. Now hear me out, this isn’t your average trip to the grocery store. It's the most coveted and talked about store in Berkeley where they have every fruit, vegetable, breads, nuts and seeds (even mustard seeds) imaginable–and not for Whole Foods prices, this food is meant for everyone. As soon as you walk in, apples, grapes, and spinach are draping over crates in all shapes and shades of red, green, and purple. The mushroom section alone has 15 mushroom varieties to choose from–it’s unreal. For me these grocery store experiences are sacred. I feel in my very body the sensation that God is alive in the abundance before us. What I am always reminded of though is that these fruits and vegetables didn’t just appear. They too had humble beginnings as the smallest of seeds before they made their debut appearance at the Berkeley Bowl.

The imagery of the mustard seed that Jesus uses in today’s parable reminds us that there are many stages in the growth process before we bear witness to the “fruit” in our lives and the lives of others. In fact, from the time the seed is planted to harvesting it, it totals to about 90 days. Often as readers we are amazed by the smallness of the mustard seed and celebrate when it becomes the largest of plants. We naturally cling to the end result of this mustard seed, skipping everything in between. But as Jesus reminds us in the Gospel, “Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.”

With this in mind, I want to stop here, and invite you to recall and reflect on something you have or are tending to. Maybe at work it's working with your colleagues on a big project. At home, it could be caring for your own child or grandchild. Maybe it’s tending to your own wellbeing and self growth by being more gentle with yourself and others. Now, when you reflect here, what do those different stages in consistently tending to something look like for you? How did you feel when you first started your big project or caring for your child? Maybe your feelings would swing from feeling confident and in control to then feeling inadequate and not enough. What were your imagined expectations of the end result? I ask you these reflective questions because through the imagery of a mustard seed, Jesus is inviting us to 1) be open to God’s presence in the process of tending to something and 2) to be surprised by abundance.  

Let me unpack this a bit by quickly walking us through what the journey looks like for a mustard seed. Again, it is no accident Jesus chooses the imagery of a mustard seed here. In the beginning stages, the growth of the seed is not evident to our eyes as it is “sewn into the ground”. The environment for the seed is often damp and dark as it is burrowed in the soil. However, it is the darkness that provides the necessary conditions for it to thrive. So often we experience periods of darkness and uncertainty when tending to something. We often can feel absolutely lost in this darkness and can’t imagine anything good coming out the other end. But as we are reminded of in the second reading today, God calls us to endure by walking “by faith and not by sight”.

As the seed begins to bud into the world, it is exposed to the harshness of its surrounding environment. The wind, erosion, and extreme heat are all threats to its survival. But it also is exposed to those things that nurture it such as the sun, light rain, and cool air. There are certainly unexpected issues and problems that arise when we commit to something, but God also surprises us by the little joys along the way that nurture us to keep going.

It’s not until months later that the mustard seed “becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade” as Jesus says. Like for the birds, in the end, the mustard seed grows into a resting place and resource for others along their own journey. Who would have imagined that the end result of a mustard seed would become the refuge and sustenance for the birds? This might not be what the farmer had in mind, but in God’s eyes, this is what abundance means and looks like.

Whether you are in the beginning stage, budding stage, or at the end, Jesus reminds us that God is always present along the journey and abundance is always before us– let us be surprised by abundance! It’s natural for us to want to be in control and cling tightly to the imagined end result. But Jesus challenges us to give up control and to be present to God in this unfolding. Now I challenge you to go to your favorite grocery store and bask in the abundance God provides you.

First Reading

Ez 17:22-24

PSALM

Ps 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16

Second Reading

2 Cor 5:6-10

GOSPEL

Mk 4:26-34
Read texts at usccb.org

Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen’s commitment to her Catholic faith was nurtured during her time at Bradley University in Peoria, IL where she was a religious studies and philosophy major. Upon graduation, she dedicated three years as a Maryknoll lay missionary, teaching English in China at Jilin Agricultural College and Jilin Catholic Seminary. Kathleen’s years in China were transformative and confirmed her desire to dedicate her life serving the Church. This experience led her to Chicago, where she obtained a master’s in systematic theology at Catholic Theological Union. She now lives in Berkeley, CA where she works for the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in the Mission Formation Department. She is heavily involved in her local parish at Newman-Hall Holy Spirit Parish where she serves as co-chair of the Parish Council. At the parish she is passionate about building bridges amongst parishioners to address polarization and creating spaces where the issue of women’s full participation can be discussed and lived out. She also serves as an Associate Director on the Board of the US-China Catholic Association. On the Board, she dedicates much of her time consulting and promoting the Chinese and American Friendship Ministry which supports campus ministry programs in reaching out to Chinese international students.

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