From the Pastor – July 23, 2023

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’” (Mt. 13:32-31a)

One of the memorable scenes from the Acts of the Apostles is when the Pharisees are deciding what to do about the Apostles, who seem content to suffer persecution as they courageously preach about the Resurrection of Jesus.  One of the Pharisees, named Gamaliel, orders the Apostles out of the Sanhedrin, and makes the following appeal to the members:

“Fellow Israelites be careful what you are about to do to these men.  Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be someone important, and about four hundred men joined him, but he was killed, and all those who were loyal to him were disbanded and came to nothing.  After him came Judas the Galilean at the time of the census. He also drew people after him, but he too perished and all who were loyal to him were scattered.  So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself.” (5:35-39)

Now we can’t cite Gamaliel for “tolerance” in Jewish doctrine.  He was a strict Jewish teacher.  On one hand, he might be afraid of making the Apostles martyrs for their cause.  Or he could have been afraid of the crowds, and reasoned that the whole “Jesus business” would burn itself out.  On the other hand, there is some evidence that Gamaliel might have been a “closet Christian” himself, especially in the writings of Clement, Josephus and St. Augustine.

Perhaps Gamaliel had actually heard today’s Gospel being preached.  Perhaps he actually understood the parable of the mustard seed. Many of the Church Fathers compare the mustard seed to the Gospel, but several, including St. Hillary and St. Gregory the Great, compare the mustard seed to Christ Himself.  Remember that the body of Christ was buried, like a seed.  But what happened is that the buried body yielded the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ that grew and spread throughout the whole world.

And what about those “birds of the sky” that “dwell in the branches”?  Here Jesus is quoting from the Book of Daniel, where the birds of the sky are the members of the Kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar.  So if the mustard plant is the Body of Christ, then we are the “birds of the sky” that are called to “dwell in the branches” of the Body of Christ, the always growing Catholic Church.

We should remember our status as faithful Christians.  We don’t just meet in a building on Napoleon Avenue (and General Pershing and Louisiana Avenue!), we’re part of the Catholic Church, with “branches” that spread throughout the world.  If (God willing!) you are able to take a vacation out of town this summer, don’t forget to visit another branch!

(Rev. Msgr.) Christopher H. Nalty