Thoughts from the Early Church

Commentary by Peter Chrysologus

The mustard seed grows into the biggest shrub of all. (Mk: 4:26).

Brothers and sisters, you have heard today how the kingdom of heaven, for all its vastness, can be compared to a mustard seed: “the kingdom of heaven,” says the Gospel, “is like a mustard seed.” A mustard seed! Is that the sum of believers' hopes? Is that what the faithful are longing for—a mustard seed, the blessed reward of virgins for their long years of self-restraint, the glorious prize won by martyrs at the cost of their blood? Is this the mystery no eye has seen, no ear heard, no human heart imagined; the mystery past telling that the Apostle assures us God has prepared for all who love him?

Let us not be too easily disappointed by our Lord's words. If we remember that “God's weakness is stronger than human strength, and God's foolishness wiser than human wisdom,” we shall find that this smallest seed of God's creation is greater than the whole wide world. It is up to us to sow this mustard seed in our minds and let it grow within us into a great tree of understanding reaching up to heaven and elevating all our faculties; then it will spread out branches of knowledge, the pungent savor of its fruit will make our mouths burn, its fiery kernel will kindle a blaze within us inflaming our hearts, and the taste of it will dispel our unenlightened repugnance. Yes, it is true: a mustard seed is indeed an image of the kingdom of God.

Christ is the kingdom of heaven. Sown like a mustard seed in the garden of the Virgin's womb, he grew up into the tree of the cross whose branches stretch across the world. Crushed in the mortar of the passion, its fruit has produced seasoning enough for the flavoring and preservation of every living creature with which it comes in contact.

As long as a mustard seed remains intact, its properties lie dormant; but when it is crushed they are exceedingly evident. So it was with Christ; he chose to have his body crushed, because he would not have his power concealed.

We too must crush this mustard seed, in order to feel the force of this parable. Christ is king, because he is the source of all authority. Christ is the kingdom, because all the glory of his kingdom is within him. Christ is a man, because all humanity is restored in him. Christ is a mustard seed, because the infinitude of divine greatness is accommodated to the littleness of flesh and blood.

Do we need further examples? Christ became all things in order to restore all of us in himself. The man Christ received the mustard seed which represents the kingdom of God; as man he received it, though as God he had always possessed it. He sowed it in his garden, that is in his bride, the Church. The Church is a garden extending over the whole world, tilled by the plough of the gospel, fenced in by stakes of doctrine and discipline, cleared of every harmful weed by the labor of the apostles, fragrant and lovely with perennial flowers: virgins' lilies and martyrs' roses set amid the pleasant verdure of all who bear witness to Christ and the tender plants of all who have faith in him.

Such then is the mustard seed which Christ sowed in his garden. When he promised a kingdom to the partriarchs the seed took root in them; with the prophets it sprang up, with the apostles it grew tall, in the Church it became a great tree putting forth innumerable branches laden with gifts. And now you too must take the wings of the psalmist's dove, gleaming gold in the rays of divine sunlight, and fly to rest for ever among those sturdy, fruitful branches. No snares are set to trap you there; fly off, then, with confidence and dwell securely in its shelter.

Sermon 98: PL 52, 474-76
 

Peter Chrysologus (c. 400-50), who was born at Imoly in Italy, became a bishop of Ravenna. He was highly esteemed by the Empress Galla Placidia, in whose presence he preached his first sermon as bishop. He was above all a pastor, and many of his sermons have been preserved.

 

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson