The Gospel Paradox
The real paradox of the Gospel, and God’s whole plan of salvation, is that it appears too weak. Imagine: the almighty creator of the universe allows Jesus, his son, to live among humanity and to be put to death by sinful men.
When Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, it hardly sounded like the kind of powerful kingdom we see on earth. But the best translation for that phrase is, “God’s gracious activity.” The whole of the Scriptures and Jesus’ life demonstrate how God uses the weakest events and people to bring about the salvation of the world.
Of all the nations to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, he chose the Israelites. When they asked God if it was because they were great and powerful, God replied, “No, it was because you were weak and fragile.” And look what happened in their thousand-year history: constant infidelity to God’s call; mingling and forming alliances with gentile neighbors. But God was faithful, bringing the savior of the world from their own bloodlines.
Look at Jesus himself. For 30 years he would be considered by the world and society as a “no-count”—born of ordinary parents. He enters society to preach and teach. The down-and-out, sick and possessed, and the least of society are his best friends and followers rather than the high and mighty.
Jesus preaches for less than three years and, in the end, by all human accounts, his mission is a failure. His own people turn on him, put him to a horrible death, and he is buried. Anyone would think, “Oh, Lord, what an abysmal plan that was.”
The Power of the Mustard Seed
Jesus’ parable about the mustard seed is his very point (Mt 13:31 ff.). From the smallest and the least come unbelievable wonders.
It is in apparent weakness that Jesus told us that the goodness and power of God would be revealed. Jesus is crucified and is raised from the dead. His disciples eventually are converted and lay down their lives for him. The faith spreads by word of mouth among ordinary people. No generals, no politicians, no rulers, no people of influence. The faith spreads even though Rome tries to crush its spread with seven terrible persecutions over the first 300 years. But nothing can stop it.
There is a point in this for us. We sometimes think we do little or nothing in our lives. The truth is that there is no one of faith and good will that God does not use. We may not know or understand that because we can’t see God’s mysterious workings. We may say, “We are nothing.” It’s more correct to say, “We are not much more than a mustard seed.”
I suspect Jesus would respond, “Oh, my faithful one. That’s the very point. One day you will see all I did in and through your life. Just trust me.”
Dear Ted, Deirdre, and Jacob: Some of your responses enriched my own notions about the kingdom of God beyond what I had understood. Thank you for that. May God bless each of you—and the many thousands of readers of this column around the world. Friar Jack
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