Today as we celebrate Father's Day – we reflect on the importance of the role of “Father.” For most of us, he was and is a guiding and nurturing presence in our life – just as God the Father, who loves us unconditionally – planting and nurturing his seeds.
In today’s Gospel reading from Mark, there are two parables. The first - the “growing seed”, the second, the “mustard seed.” Both are good parables for Father’s Day.
Back in 2006, Tim Russert published a wonderful book named “the wisdom of our fathers.” It is a compilation of short reflections by sons and daughters, speaking about their fathers. It is hard to read without stopping every few minutes and putting it down, as it brings out so much emotion – so many stories that we can relate to.
I would like to share with you one very short story by Dixie Wilson, the daughter of Carl Wilson Jr., a machinist.
"My dad taught me to tie my shoes, to cross the street, to get an education, and to believe in my country, my God, and my family. I never had to look far for my hero. He was just across in the living room, sitting in his favorite chair, reading he newspaper, and watching the nightly news."
Short, simple and to the point. Basic stuff – tying shoes, crossing the street – going to school. And dad sitting in his favorite chair. Us dads all seem to have a favorite chair.
This story may remind you of your own father – it certainly reminds me of my dad. It is 26 years since we have been together. Dad was a 100% disabled veteran. My brother, who is ten years older than me, can remember days when he was somewhat healthy – but all MY memories are of a very sick man. A man who could not put on a shirt or socks without help. Dad could not teach me to tie my shoes or how to cross the street. My mom did that. He did teach me to love my country – he was a soldier in the big war, in the Third Army with General Patton. He also taught me about love. In my teen age years I was a bit of a rebel, long hair, and crazy ideas – still dad loved me through it all, always supporting me. He never went to bed at night without giving me a kiss – to the very last days of his life. Though my children are now grown and out of the house, they never leave without a kiss from dad – and the same with my grandson. Dad showed me what it meant to love – for better or for worse. After my mother’s stroke at the young age of fifty three, Dad, through all his weakness, would be the one to care of her. Now the subject of GOD was never broached in our house – even though mom placed a cross on my bedroom wall. Dad and Mom NEVER went to Church. This is something I never thought to question when I was young. I have questions now, but it’s too late. My parents DID send me to Church, and to Catholic school. It was easy, right across the street. My dad did the best he could with what he was given, not money, not good health – BUT – lots of love and patience. Not all parents have this “virtue” of patience. Sometimes we are very controlling – telling our “seeds” exactly what kind of plant they will become. Sometimes we are lax – we don’t help create the best conditions for our “seeds” to grow. Like the sower of the seed, we must wait with patience to see what the child will become. There is only so much we can do; the rest is up to God. As St. Paul reminds us, “We walk by faith, and not by sight.”
Jesus explains this in his “GROWING SEED” Parable when he says, ”This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.” Jesus' point is that the Kingdom of God is, like the plants, in God's hands.
The second parable in today’s Gospel is the “Mustard seed.” It is Jesus description of the Kingdom of God. He says “It is like a mustard seed which at the time of its sowing in the soil is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.”
This story is a comfort for all of us. The seed of the Church was planted under adverse conditions – it was small and vulnerable. Beginning with the Roman persecution – the fall of Rome – internal fights and debates – barbarian conquests - corruption in the middle Ages - the Renaissance. -Despite modern day scandals and today’s attacks from within and without - the Church lives on, and grows. God nurtures the seed of the Church – and forces its growth. He does wonders with our feeble efforts. He turns that which is insignificant into that which is substantial. We can be happy in the knowledge that, as Jesus said “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Now, after hearing these parables, you would think that everyone loved the mustard seed. Not so. In Jesus time, the mustard seed was not looked on kindly. As a matter of fact, a gardener would not want a mustard seed planted in his garden. It was a nuisance. It would spread where it pleased and spread thousands of seeds per plant. Just as we do not have full control over our children’s lives, and our own lives for that matter, the gardener would not have control over the spread of the seeds. The mustard seed does not really grow into a large plant – but into a large bush. So Imagine, all these bushes spreading like wildfire – and all the life each would contain - nesting birds, insects, and animals taking shelter in its shade. Jesus, in his great wisdom, uses the BUSH as a metaphor for the Kingdom of God – while it has small beginnings, the results are surprising!
Jesus is constantly speaking to his disciples about the Kingdom of God, how the Kingdom is the in-breaking of God’s reign into our lives – God’s love come down to earth. We, as Fathers and guardians, must partake in this” in-breaking”. We plant the seed, providing for our children’s intellectual, physical, and social needs, we also nurture the seed with our commitment to its spiritual growth and development. We wait with patience - with a respect for failure – for hiddenness and insignificance. These things now point beyond themselves to the Kingdom of God. Although the Kingdom is already in our midst – it will full blossom in our children, who, with God’s help, will become that beautiful instrument of God, providing shelter for the poor, the unloved, the forgotten – and as the Psalmist says “will proclaim God’s love in the morning and His truth in the watches of the night.”
Let us pray, God our Father, We give you thanks and praise for fathers young and old.
We pray for young fathers, newly embracing their vocation; May they find courage and perseverance to balance work, family and faith in joy and sacrifice.
We pray for Fathers around the world whose children are lost or suffering; May they know that the God of compassion walks with them in their sorrow.
We pray for men who are not fathers but still mentor and guide us with fatherly love and advice. We remember fathers, grandfathers, and great grandfathers who are no longer with us - but who live forever in our memory and nourish us with their love. Amen