Masterpieces come from the smallest beginnings
Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 17, 2012 (11B)
By Fr. James Gilhooley
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A man walked into a store. He found Christ behind the counter. He asked, "What do you sell here?" Christ replied, "You name it." "I want food for all, good health for kids, adequate housing for everyone, and abortion to cease." Gently Jesus answered, "Friend, I do not sell finished products here, only seeds. You must plant them and water them. I will do the rest."
When Jesus told this parable of the smallest seed in the world, His disciples were in a downer. They had worked so hard and so little had happened. The famous mountain had been in labor and only a mouse had been born. Their work, begun with a bang, was about to close down without a notice.
Given their depression, the Christ told them this three verse parable of the minuscule mustard seed. Though its beginnings are modest, its final height is awesome.
He wanted them to realize that despite their few numbers and the opposition against them a great Church would arise from their labors. The history books show how correct He was.
Someone has noted that masterpieces come from the smallest beginnings. From eight notes come every hymn, song, and symphony ever composed. Arguably the greatest piece of music ever written is Beethoven's Ninth Symphony - all of it from eight notes. All literature is born from the twenty-six letters of the alphabet. From them came the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address.
But one does not have to produce masterpieces to have an effect. Small acts make a difference. Graduating college seniors hear much nonsense from commencement speakers. However, Sydney Schanberg, the Pulitzer Prize journalist, whose reports formed the 1984 film "The Killing Fields," was a blessed exception.
He told the graduates before him, "You are often told you can change the world. But that is rubbish. What you can do is make the world modestly better." He went on to speak of their own classmates who assisted the homeless and fed the hungry over their college careers. These people made a difference. They themselves grew and developed. They were helping people one by one. Bigger is not necessarily better. His message was it is a great thing to do a little thing well.
Find a cause. Go for it. Take Gandhi's advice: "First they ignore you. Then they laugh. Then they attack. Then you win." We wish to see objects grow in a flash. Yet, Christ is telling us that though you cannot see it, the mustard seed is maturing. It will become among the largest of all plants. It will climb to eleven feet. No wonder birds flock to its branches for R & R and travelers crawl into its shade for lunch and a nap.
A story is told of an experiment performed by a physicist. She wanted to show her students the effect a small object can have on block of iron. The block was hanging from the ceiling. The physicist began throwing paper balls at the metal. At first nothing happened. Then after a time the iron began to vibrate, then sway, and at last move freely.
The poet Lucretius wrote, "Dripping water hollows a stone."
Everything must begin somewhere. No one emerged fully grown from his mother's wombs. If Christians could learn to bring together their modest contributions to the commonweal, can you imagine what a force for good we would be for those about us?
The Nazarene is saying to us, "Develop where you are planted." He warns us to that often we quit growing because, as James Tahaney said, we prefer groaning.
Some years ago I heard of an Oscar winning actor. He owed his career to an elderly woman. As a young man, he received bad notices. Finally he resolved to give up his dreams of becoming an actor. Then a note arrived in his mail box from an anonymous fan. She had heard of his despondency. She wrote but four words. "Keep acting. You're good." That small note gave him the courage to continue. From her four words grew an Oscar winner.
I have worked for years with teens. They often have sorrowfully spoken to me of how little or no encouragement they receive from their own families, friends, and even teachers. Cannot you and I substitute for those silent people? Cannot we do for them what the fan did for the actor? Our compliment need be no more than four words.
Begin today. Encourage others. And remember the advice of Winston Churchill, "The difficulty is not to be expected in the beginning but rather when one attempts to stay the course."