By Anne Armstrong, RE Curriculum Coordinator
“I am a little pencil in the hand of God who is sending a love letter to the world.”
Mother Teresa and St. Thérèse both believed they were called to love and embody God’s love in their own worlds, where they lived daily, in relationships with their communities. These relationships were not without their challenges. It is not always easy to love others, particularly those who thrive on pettiness, their sense of importance, their selfish ways. Both saints, however, maintained that if we do small things with great love, bigger and more positive consequences will follow. Both Mother Teresa and St Thérèse embody the qualities of the mustard seed in the parable read at Mass last Sunday.
To understand this parable, we must understand what Jesus’ audience understood about mustard seeds.
Because of the reference to the size of the plant, it appears that Jesus was talking about the Black Mustard that can grow upwards to 10′ tall (and even higher under ideal conditions) from the smallest of seeds (1 mm in size) used for crops and herbs. The mustard plant is quite common in the Near East and is often considered to be a weed because it can spread so widely and quickly with its tiny seeds. To compare something to a mustard seed is also to suggest that valuable new ideas, new ways of doing things, new ways of relating. Can spread quickly in the right environments.
In Jesus’s day, it was common for people to say something was like a mustard seed in suggested that it was very, very small and thus insignificant. To compare something to a mustard seed reinforced its lack of importance in the scheme of things.
“In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”
Jewish Pharisees did not think highly of the mustard plant. The Talmud, an ancient Jewish commentary of the Old Testament, prohibited planting mustard in a Jewish garden because it would quickly take over. They based this on their interpretation of Deuteronomy 22 that prohibited mixture — such as mixing different forms of cloth. They applied this principle to the mustard plant because it would quickly spread through the garden mixing with other plants making the garden unclean.
On the plus side, seeds were often ground up to make powder, paste, or oil for use in medicines (poultices and plasters) or foods (pickling spice, cooking oil, and condiments or seasoning for meats). The leaves are also edible and used in stews and salads. If you make lots of curries, you will appreciate the benefits of mustard seeds in your cooking. The Romans, added freshly pressed grape juice to the spicy-hot powder from the ground-up seeds to create their own culinary delight.
Mustard seeds are also very hardy and resilient. A typical mustard plant produces thousands of seeds that sprout earlier than seeds of other plants giving it a significant advantage in early competition for water and nutrients. It also needs less precipitation than most other plants for its seed to start germinating. Rains also causes the mustard seeds outer coat to become sticky allowing it to cling to birds and animals resulting in wide distribution. Along with this, mustard seeds can lie dormant for years and after times of drought, the mustard plant is usually the first to recover and can quickly dominate the ground when the rains return.
“I’m a little brush that Jesus has chosen in order to paint His own image in the souls entrusted to my care.” –St. Thérèse of Lisieux
We can take great comfort in seeing ourselves as mustard seeds. To paraphrase Paul F C Mundy, you cannot be all things to all people. But sometimes, just sometimes, you will be the right person at the right time. You will be the exact person that one human being needs more than anything. You may not even know how much of an impact you will have had but your presence in one person’s life will make a difference.
Mustard seeds, however, are not meant to stay small. They are meant to flourish and nourish, to add flavour and provide healing. We cannot flourish, nourish and heal until we ourselves allow God’s love to flourish in our lives. From that still, small, ‘yes’ to God, we are encouraged to become disciples of living faith.
Both St Thérèse of Lisieux and Mother Teresa embody the qualities of this living faith: they demonstrate the resilience, fruitfulness, simplicity and endurance found in mustard seeds. They encourage us to be faithful where we are, to love where we are, to grow where we are and to minister God’s love where we are. They encourage us to nourished by the great gift of the Eucharist, the source and summit of our Catholic Faith. In letter to a cousin, St. Thérèse stressed the value of Holy Communion.” Jesus is there in the Tabernacle expressly for you, for you alone; He is burning with the desire to enter your heart.” We might be small but we are significant in God’s eyes.