In the paths of peace
In the roads of righteousness
in the ways of commitment.
Lead me Lord,
Down the tracks of thoughtfulness
In the streets of compassion
By the journey of joyfulness.
Lead me Lord, in love, today. Amen. (David Adam, adapted)
We begin our summer journey together through the parables of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.
Parables are rooted in the images of everyday life in the days of Jesus and yet a parable is “where the ordinary has gone askew and thereby shocks us into realizing that the parable leads us into another way of thinking about life.” (John R. Donahue)
For Jesus is trying to expand our mind, to get us to consider things more deeply - What is the Kingdom of God like?
A sower sewing seed - the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how; but then comes the harvest! A mustard seed – the smallest of seeds – after its sown, it grows & becomes the greatest of all shrubs!
What is the Kingdom of God like? It starts small and then it develops…
In the course of our lives we all have met individuals who radiate an inner light. They make you feel respected and valued, they listen with concern and compassion, they genuinely care for others and the good of all. Their laugh is musical and their manner infused with gratitude.
Even if they don’t know it, they are living into the Kingdom of God that Jesus talked about.
New York Times' columnist David Brooks wrote a few years ago that he has been blessed to meet those who radiate such an inner light and “it brightens my whole day. But I confess I often have a sadder thought: It occurs to me that I’ve achieved a decent level of career success, but I have not achieved that. I have not achieved that generosity of spirit, or that depth of character.”
Brooks has found that there are "two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral - whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?
"We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.
"But if you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured. You lack a moral vocabulary. It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys…”
So Brooks “set out to discover how those deeply good people got that way… we could say these accomplishments amounted to a moral bucket list…” List includes things like humility, self-control, contentment, enthusiasm, benevolence. He explores this list by using the examples of President Dwight D Eisenhower, Dorothy Day, Frances Perkins (Episcopalian!), and author George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans). “Their lives often follow a pattern of defeat, recognition, redemption. They have moments of pain and suffering. But they turn those moments into occasions of radical self-understanding.”
Good people, Brooks writes, "are made, not born - that the people I admired achieved an unfakeable inner virtue, built slowly from specific moral and spiritual accomplishments." ["The Moral Bucket List" by David Brooks, The New York Times, April 11, 2015.]
Brooks words that “good people are made not born” remind me of Tertullian, a 2nd century Christian theologian who wrote that “Christians are made, not born.”
They are both right. It takes work to be that good person, that Christian, who Jesus calls us to be in this world today. People who grow capable of that deep love and are able to share it.
The Gospel images of the persevering farmer and the tiny mustard seed challenge us to move beyond our own shortcomings and doubts in order to live into the eulogy virtues of humility, selflessness, love and compassion; to radiate the inner light of God's grace to others in our mustard seed-size acts of generosity and understanding.
In our world so full of division and hate, we need to develop our moral bucket list, our faith & virtues, those mustard seeds, and rise up to bring love and help keep families together in our world today.
Christ calls us to embrace the faith of the Gospel farmer and the hope of the mustard seed: to be willing to plant whatever seeds of Gospel hope and compassion that we possess, wherever and whenever we can, in the certain knowledge that it will, in some way, result in a harvest of God's life and love, the Kingdom of God. By such faith, may we possess the grace and wisdom of those in our lives who are a blessing to us, those who have that inner virtue/light and so we in turn can become a blessing to others. Amen.