Thinking Anew – ‘The smallest of all the seeds’

It was brought to my attention some days ago that an acquaintance referred to me as a “thug”. I presume it was about something I had written or a view that I had expressed. It appears we have different opinions on myriad subjects, theologically, politically and socially. It set me thinking and while I jokingly told friends I considered it a badge of honour, it did of course hurt me. Have I never referred to an opponent as a “thug”? Unfortunately, I too have used the word. When someone calls you a name you mull over it and spend some time thinking about it. We spend more time and energy thinking of the negative aspects people see in us than the positive ones. You wonder why someone might think badly of you and no matter who they are, most of us don’t want people to perceive us badly. The corollary is certainly true, when someone speaks well of us, we immediately are inclined to view them in more positive terms. On reflection, it dawned on me that the man who called me that name had never in his life sat down and spoken with me in any serious way. I always felt he was shouting at me.

And isn’t that so often the story of our lives? We form opinions of people, make judgments, yet knowing so little about them. Certainly, I often find myself forming opinions of celebrities and politicians without knowing the first thing about them. We can easily do the same about our neighbours or acquaintances. It might be based on how they look, the way they walk. Yes, it’s as superficial as that. Isn’t that why corporations and political parties spend so much time, money and energy on advertising? If they can manage to get their target audience to see someone in a favourable light then they have the possibility of winning them over to their side, buying their product or voting for their candidate. Is it all as ephemeral as that? I suspect it may well be. Dogmatists and those with “notions” about themselves may claim that it’s objective standards, the teaching of the difference between right and wrong, that win people over to doing what is right and proper. Of course, that approach too has a role to play in the forming of a person and the structuring of good society. But we can never, nor must we ever, forget about the incidental words and acts of kindness that shape us and leave indelible marks on our psyche. In tomorrow’s Gospel (Matthew 13: 24 -43), among the parables Jesus tells us is that of the mustard seed: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest shrub of all and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and shelter in its branches.”

Isn’t it a remarkable illustration of the effects of the smallest of things and then how significant they can become in our lives? Indeed, they are so influential that we continue to go back to them looking for shelter and protection, just as the birds seek shelter in the branches. And again, in Psalm 86 in tomorrow’s liturgy we are told that the Lord is kind and forgiving and most loving to all who invoke him. Little acts of kindness have the potential to swell into major moments in our lives. When we experience acts of kindness from another person, we will see that person in a positive and warm light. Alas, the reverse too is true, when someone disrespects us, it makes it far easier for us to see them in a negative light.

Tomorrow’s liturgy calls on all of us to focus on God, who is love and compassion. Instead of looking for the weak and negative aspects in other people, we are encouraged to see them as the handiwork of God, who fashioned them. It’s easy enough to call a person a thug, and I may well deserve it, but it’s more gracious and uplifting to acknowledge another person’s moments of greatness and goodness, a potential of which we are all capable. If we all make greater efforts to be kind to one another, to understand people’s challenges and frailties, surely, we shall see them in a different light and they in turn will reciprocate those acts of kindness. Pie in the sky? No, actually it’s the message of Jesus.