One of Jesus’ main methods of teaching was the use of parables. In his parables, Jesus uses the common elements of creation—seeds, birds, trees, flowers, water, soil. He also uses the ordinary activities of everyday life that his listeners would be familiar with: planting, making wine, baking bread, cleaning house, caring for animals, celebrating weddings.
In doing this, Jesus imparted three other major lessons for us. First, creation is holy. As such, it is filled with wisdom for us if only we would take the time to be attentive to its inner workings. Secondly, we are not separate from nature. The laws that govern the natural world, govern us. As the theologian, Dianne Bergant says, “Earth does not belong to us. We belong to Earth.” Such a statement lies at the heart of our current ecological movement. And the third lesson, is this: everyday life is sacred. The humble tasks that occupy so much of our time and which we perform over and over again can be conduits of God’s grace for us.
Jesus’ teaching centered on the Kingdom of God or the Reign of God. He compared the Reign of God to things like mustard seeds and baking yeast. Both of these entities seem lowly at first. But both are filled with potential. Simple acts such as planting or kneading have the power to release their potential. But both seeds and yeast must be transformed to release their new life. And that transformation entails a dying.
The implication for us is simple: We too must be transformed so that new life may burst forth in us. But personal transformation always involves a form of dying—whether that means giving up bad habits, letting go of a prejudicial belief, growing in self-discipline, learning to share with others, or inconveniencing ourselves for the sake of someone else.
Sometimes our external transformation is obvious. Here’s an example. Below are two pictures of my grandniece, Rebecca. The one on the left was taken when she was 3. The one on the right is a current photo of her at 19. At age 3, her life consisted mostly of play and simple learning. At age 19, she is a college freshman studying nursing. She is also a certified EMT for the local fire department and she has soloed as a glider pilot. Imagine all the little “deaths” that went into making her the young woman she is today—the little deaths she herself embraced along the way as well as the countless little deaths her parents embraced in raising her.
God’s Reign comes, then, not through showy and extraordinary deeds, but through humble, everyday actions: preparing a meal, helping a child with her homework, going to Church, taking a course, making time to pray, giving another driver a break in traffic, shopping for groceries, recycling, paying attention to the news, voting, reading a book, feeding the birds, cleaning a bathroom.
In addition to mustard seeds and baking yeast, the ravens and lilies have something to teach us too, Jesus says. Ravens do not plan for their survival nor do lilies design their own beauty. Rather, says Bergant, they both simply “live faithful to their natures, and God provides.” Though planning and designing may be natural to humans, anxiety should not be, says Jesus. The parable also raises the question of what we consider important. Ravens might seem unimportant in the grand scheme of things. After all, they are scavengers. Lilies too may seem insignificant, for their beauty is so short lived.
Yet, in God’s Great Design, ravens rid their locale of carrion that could spread disease. And lilies add beauty and fragrance wherever they may be. What’s more, ravens and lilies “contribute to their respective ecosystems” whether human beings are present or not. We humans need to remember that all of earth’s components (including ourselves) are part of a dynamic cosmic design, each component contributing to that overall design.
When have you experienced your oneness with all of creation? In other words, where were you and what were you doing when you had such an experience?
What ordinary, everyday activities seem “holy” to you? Why do you think this is so?
Which of Jesus’ parables is your favorite—and why?
This lovely song, “Sanctuary” by Carrie Newcomer, is something of a parable in music and visuals. It reminds us that, when life becomes cold and dark, we need individuals in our lives who are a refuge and a sanctuary for us. And we need to provide sanctuary for others too. Who is your sanctuary?… Always remember, our greatest sanctuary is God, is Jesus.
I invite you to respond to this reflection and/or song. My other readers and I would love to hear your thoughts!