Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
First reading: Ez 17:22-24
Responsorial Psalm: 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16
Second reading: 2 Cor 5:6-10
Gospel: Mk 4:26-34
By Jem Sullivan | Catholic News Service
“The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church,” wrote Tertullian, a second-century Christian apologist. From the beginning, Christians down to our own day have given the ultimate witness to faith in Jesus Christ by shedding their blood at the hands of persecutors.
The church gathers the record of those who persevere in their witness to faith in what is known as the “Acts of the Martyrs.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that the witness of Christian martyrs forms “the archives of truth written in letters of blood” as they “walk by faith, not by sight,” as St. Paul urges the Corinthian community to do.
While we tend to think of Christian martyrdom in the first five centuries of Christianity, it may surprise us to know of a dramatic rise in the numbers of Christian martyrs in our time, that is during the 20th century and the past two decades of the third Christian millennium.
In his book, “The Global War on Christians,” John Allen calls the persecution and martyrdom of Christians “the most dramatic religion story of the early 21st century,” that reveals the “rising tide of legal oppression, social harassment and direct physical violence, with Christians as its leading victims.”
Allen notes that “Christians today indisputably form the most persecuted religious body on the planet, and too often its new martyrs suffer in silence.”
In the Gospel, Jesus uses the image of seed to speak of the spread of the kingdom of God. As the one who scatters seed on the land goes about daily life, he finds the seed has sprouted and grown on its own accord.
Once the sower’s work is done, the seed bears fruit as it moves through the stages of growth from a blade to ear to full grain. And so it is with the word of God in our lives.
God’s word is a small, yet potent seed of faith sown in our hearts and minds. Through our openness and docility to the Holy Spirit the seed of God’s word grows in us, bearing the fruit of peace, joy and love of God and neighbor. While our perseverance is necessary, the deepening of faith is a marvelous work of the Holy Spirit who grows God’s grace in us!
Jesus also uses the image of the mustard seed to speak of the providential generosity of God’s grace in our lives. The small mustard seed grows into the largest of plants with shade-giving and fruit-bearing branches. Similarly, God’s word begins as a small seed of faith within us and can grow to bear remarkable, even unimaginable fruit.
Few of us will be called to the ultimate sacrifice of martyrdom. Yet even the smallest seed of faith in Jesus, witnessed in our daily words and deeds, grows in the power of the Holy Spirit. Our small seeds of faith can transform the world through the peace, joy and love we radiate at home, workplace, neighborhood and society as we pray, “speak to me, Lord.”
How does the Holy Spirit grow your faith in Jesus Christ?
Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America.