In today's Gospel, Jesus tells two parables, both of which are about seeds. While these parables can be read and interpreted on many different levels, saints and scholars have often noted that they provide important insights into the nature of the Church in the world.
Now you might be thinking to yourself, “Huh? The Church in the world? But Jesus says that He's talking about the Kingdom of God!” Exactly. The Church is the Kingdom of God. It is the Kingdom already present on earth even though it has not yet reached the fullness of its glory in Heaven. Already but not yet. That is the nature of the Church, the Kingdom of God, in the world.
In the first parable, Jesus explains that a farmer scatters seed on the land and then watches the seed sprout and grow without knowing how it is happening. He lets nature take its course, but he reaps a rich harvest of grain in the end.
Jesus is making a promise here. He knows that He, too, is scattering seed, and that seed will spread throughout the whole world as the apostles go forth to plant the Kingdom of God, the Church. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church will sprout and grow and yield fruit. It will never be wiped out by storm or disease, for God will always protect it even in the most troubled times. It will survive until the harvest, until the end of time, when Jesus will come back and reap a rich crop.
Does Jesus mean that we can simply sit back and do nothing to help the Church grow and spread? Of course not! Do farmers plant their fields and do nothing else? No, they water and fertilize their growing crops, test soil conditions, pluck pesky weeds, chase away seed-stealing birds, and do what is necessary to help their crops flourish. We as Christians do the same. We cultivate faith, hope, and love, encourage virtue in ourselves and in others, examine our consciences, pluck out sin, spread the Word of God far and wide, and do what we must to help the Church flourish in the world. But we also know that, in the end, God is in control.
Jesus' second parable also describes about the Church in terms of a seed, this time a tiny mustard seed that grows into a huge plant. Jesus is probably referring to the black mustard that grew wild in Galilee. It started from a minute seed and could quickly grow up to nine feet tall. According to Jesus, birds could find shade and comfort within the branches of the great mustard plant.
Think for a moment about the beginning of the Catholic Church. At Jesus' crucifixion, only Mary, John, and a few women were left standing beneath the Cross. Three days later, at the Resurrection, eleven shivering apostles were gathered in the upper room. The women had gone to the tomb to do what they could for the Body of Jesus. A few other disciples were scattered here and there, a couple even heading out on the road to Emmaus. The Church was very small, like a mustard seed.
But the Church grew quickly. At that first Pentecost, three thousand people were baptized and joined the early Church. The apostles spread out, preaching the Gospel and founding new Church communities wherever they went.
Today, there are approximately 1.96 billion Catholics in the world, from the 80 or so Catholics who live in the Maldives of South Asia to the over 136,000,000 Catholics in Brazil. The little seed of the Church that started to grow nearly 2000 years ago in Israel is indeed a gigantic, flowering, flourishing tree that provides shelter and comfort to all of us Catholic “birds” throughout the entire world.