Readings: Romans 8:18-25; Ps 125 (126); Luke 13:18-21
What is the point of comparison in the parables? What is it about the activities described that provides an analogy with the kingdom of God? One parable involves a man and the other a woman, so it's not that. One is about gardening and the other is about cooking. One happens outdoors and the other indoors. And so on ...
It seems that the point of comparison, taking the two parables together, is a relatively insignificant thing - the mustard seed or the yeast - which, given the right circumstances, has the power to stimulate and effect extraordinary change. They are both silent, almost invisible, things. The mustard seed is just a speck of dust and the yeast disappears without trace into the flour. But where each of them does its work, the consequences are formidable.
Paul in the first reading gives us other images from nature. He describes the process of the kingdom's growth in terms of birth. It is no longer something silent and almost invisible. Instead he speaks about the entire creation groaning in one great act of giving birth. All who possess 'the first-fruits of the Spirit', he says, groan inwardly as they wait for their bodies to be set free.
The scale is hugely different, between the yeast and the tree produced by the mustard seed, and then between them and the entire cosmos suffering the pangs of birth. But 'the first-fruits of the Spirit', the power stimulating that birth and its pangs, is another way of speaking about the seed and the yeast, the presence of the kingdom of God 'deep down things' and the guaranteed working out of the call of that presence.
We are saved in hope, Paul says. Benedict XVI used that phrase to name his encyclical on hope, Spe salvi. In hope we are already the tree in whose branches the birds of the air build their nests. In hope we are already the batch of bread leavened all through with the leaven of Christ. In hope we are already the children of God brought to birth through the work of Christ. Hope is always 'already and not yet'; otherwise, asks Paul, why do we talk about hope? The process is underway and, given the right circumstances, its outcome is inevitable. The seed sown in the Christian heart by baptism, the first-fruits of the Spirit, given the right circumstances, will produce the tree of virtuous living, generous charity, and compassionate mercy.
Like the mustard seed and the yeast, the first-fruits of the Spirit have the power to stimulate and effect extraordinary change. We need simply allow these supernatural forces to do their work in us. That work is painful: there is no growth without pain just as there is no birth without blood. But there is no comparison between the struggle of the seed, or the yeast, or the Spirit in us, between that suffering and the glory that is brought about through that struggle. Look at the tree the seed becomes. Look at the batch of bread the yeast produces. Look (in the lives of the saints) at the freedom and glory of those who live by the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus.