When I was a child, my mother would point out the plants and flowers she had and name the people who had given them to her as little cuttings off other established plants. Most of what she had she had carried from her native Wexford soil and planted it with hope for a new plant to spring up. Each little cutting was a promise of life resettled in a new soil.
Today’s readings offer us reflections on new life and hope through the images of cuttings and seeds. After a lengthy berating of the people of Israel and Judah for their sins and infidelities, we find at the end of the 17th chapter of the Prophet Ezekiel the first glimmer of hope and promise of new life. God will slip off a tender shoot from the crest of the mighty cedar and plant it in new soil. That relocated tender shoot will put forth branches and bear fruit and become a majestic cedar, where every type of bird shall dwell. This new tree with its own new roots will come from something small and tender. A little cutting from a mighty cedar is the promise of a new tree.
In the 4th chapter of Mark, Jesus is deep into agricultural imagery, from the sower and the seed to the images presented today. We understand that the farmer of Jesus day had not studied the science of germination and so knew little or nothing about how the seed produced the crop. That wasn’t a problem, because what the farmer did know was that the seed was the promise of the harvest, which one day would be reaped. Meanwhile, the farmer could sleep and rise in the assurance that the harvest would come. Our scientific advances do not negate the power of this image, which speaks of the mystery of the growth of the Reign of God. It is planted as a small seed of promise. Then it sprouts and grows. We do not know how and we do not know where. It happens, not by our brainstorming and strategic planning, but by the mysterious plan of God. The little mustard seed becomes a sturdy bush with branches where the birds of the air can find shade, reminiscent of the tree that grows from the tender shoot cutting from the cedar in Ezekiel. This is all because of the promise of life in the little seed.
When we look at another person, we see the shoot, the ear, the harvest of the Reign of God. Each one of us from the very first moments of our almost undetectable being is a promise of God’s Reign. What a difference it would make in human conduct if we saw each one we meet as that promise of God. What a difference it would make in our own lives if, every time we look in the mirror, we greet the promise of God incarnated in our being.
Perhaps, today, we could take a little seed, or a little cutting, a tender shoot, from another plant, hold it reverently in our hands and give thanks for the promise of new life within it. Then find a little soil from our sacred earth and place the promise in its comforting and nurturing care, as a sacrament of our belief that thus is the growth of the Reign of God, a promise of life fulfilled among us.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP