Parable of the Mustard Seed
Rev. Scott A. Haynes
A Sermon for the Sixth Resumed Sunday after Epiphany
In the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew we find the Parable of the Mustard Seed:
At that time, Jesus spoke this parable to the crowds: The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field. This indeed is the smallest of all the seeds; but when it grows up it is larger than any herb and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and dwell in its branches. He told them another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and buried in three measures of flour, until all of it was leavened. All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and without parables he did not speak to them; that what was spoken by the prophet might be fulfilled, I will open My mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world. (Matt 13:31-35).
When the Catholic Church began, it was very small, like the mustard seed. The first followers of Christ were but two, Mary and Joseph. In time, the Church spread so wide that untold numbers from ever language, people and nation on earth came to find peace and protection under its branches. In this Gospel, Christ’s doctrine is also compared to leaven. Like leaven, which quickly penetrates the flour, and makes bread palatable, Christ’s doctrine penetrates the souls of our hearts when we hear the Word. Christ’s teaching sanctifies a man’s thoughts, words, and deeds, and makes him pleasing to God.
Some may ask, by what means was the Church of Christ propagated? Did Christ our Lord establish a corporation? Did he call a council meeting? Did he start a drive to raise funds? No! It was not by human means that Jesus Christ propagated His Church. Rather, it was by godly means, by heavenly wisdom and by supernatural grace that Jesus Christ established his Church. His leaven penetrated all the Gentile nations. His mustard seeds of faith have been planted in the hearts of countless souls.
The truth and divinity of the Christian religion is proved true first of all by God’s omnipotence and by his innumerable miracles, the greatest of which is his bodily Resurrection from the dead. But how many miracles has Christ continued through the ages, by the intercession of the Blessed Mother and the saints. The Catholic faith is proved true by the courageous faith, and the pure moral life of the early Christians. These brave souls led many pagan minds to accept the doctrine of Christ. When Christian women and children were led to their martyrdom for boldly professing their faith in Jesus Christ, they would not be moved despite the most savage of tortures. Some were fed to lions; others were put to death by the sword; still others were drowned in the sea.
St. Peter of Verona, the Dominican preacher of the thirteenth century, was martyred for his preaching. He would not compromise the truths of our faith. He would not water-down the Creed. And when his attackers found him walking through the woods they suddenly rushed upon him and struck him a mortal blow to his skull with an axe. He fell down and began to pray to his Creator and as he lay there in a pool of his own blood he took his finger, dipped it into his own blood. And in those last precious moments he showed the depth of his faith, he proclaimed to his persecutors his undying faith in God his Creator and Redeemer. And with finger, shaking and covered in blood, he wrote Credo.
All these martyrs of our faith, men, women and even children, persevered to the end. And those mustard seeds of faith were watered by their very blood. As Tertullian, one of the fathers of the Church, says:
“The blood of the martyrs was the seed of Christians.”
Some would argue other religions have spread far and wide too. How do we know that these are false? We should not stand in awe of that, because it is easy to lead people to human doctrine that permits sensuality. Fallen human nature is easily carried by evil inclinations and by the religious fad of the day. But to spread a doctrine that demands the subduing of the carnal, earthly inclinations, and to bend the stubborn human will to the yoke of obedience and to faith, something more than human eloquence is required. Only the grace of Christ suffices.
The Chancellor of England, St. Thomas More, who gave his blood for the true doctrine of Christ and in defense of our Catholic faith, wrote to Martin Luther, who was boasting of the rapid increase of his Protestant sect:
“[Martin, Martin,] it is easy to descend; seducing the people to a bad life is nothing more marvelous than that a heavy stone should fall of its own accord to the ground.”
Melanchton, a friend of Luther, in answer to his mother’s question, whether she should remain a Catholic or receive Luther’s Protestant religion, wrote:
“In this [new Protestant] religion it is easy to live, [but] in the Catholic it is easy to die.”
These great saints like St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, were joined by countless others. One of the English martyrs you may have never heard of was Venerable Montford Scott. He was a Catholic priest faithful to Holy Mother Church and to Christ's Vicar on Earth. In periods of stability and peace it is easy to be faithful to the Pope, but during persecution the sheep and the goats are separated, and we find out who stands for what.
When Queen Elizabeth I ordered Fr. Montford Scott to forsake the Catholic priesthood and join the Queen’s Church, he obstinately refused and professed his undying loyalty to Christ, the Catholic Church and to the See of Rome. The priest hunter, Richard Topcliffe, the member of the English Parliament who was the right-hand-man of Queen Elizabeth I, said that
“he had that day done the queen and the kingdom a singular piece of service in ridding the realm of such a praying and fasting papist as had not his peer in Europe.”
On this Dies Domini, this “day of the Lord,” let us give thanks that we have the freedom to practice our faith, which we have received from Lord through His Apostles. Let us offer thanksgiving that we have been instructed in Christ’s holy doctrine, which, like the mustard-seed, has grown to be a large tree, spreading over the whole earth. Let us beseech our Heavenly Father that he grant that under the shadow of this tree, in Thy holy Church, we may ever rest securely, cling to her faithfully, and be penetrated, as by leaven, with her pure and holy doctrine and bring forth pleasing fruits of faith, hope and love. Amen.