God is a better gardener than I am, for sure. About fifteen years ago, I planted a Cedar of Lebanon sapling at the corner of the back garden. It took root and grew, and now is vying with the neighboring sycamores, ash trees, and the overbearing cottonwood poplars for a rightful measure of sunshine. A friend in Lebanon, who is trying to bring back these nearly extinct great cedars, places compost pots beneath the branches of the trees he has planted to catch the seeds when the mature cones open. When the seeds sprout, he plants them wherever he can. He is making great strides. In about 700 years, those hundreds of tiny seedlings will once again tower over the sides of Mount Lebanon. That requires patience and trust.
In today’s first reading, Ezekiel likens God to a forester who takes a short cut, snipping off a tender shoot from the crest of a cedar and
tenderly transplanting it to a mountainside in Israel, where Lebanon cedars normally do not grow. But God assures us that it will become a huge, majestic tree, home to all kinds of birds and wildlife. Expect great things, but be patient and trust.
In his parable, Jesus uses a much smaller and seemingly insignificant plant to make the same point, starting with a tiny seed (larger than a chia seed, but that doesn’t grow in Palestine). Carefully watered and tended, the little mustard seed develops into a good-sized shrub, which did happen in his time in the mountain regions. But Jesus is having a little fun with his audience, as he liked to do. His mustard plant will not rival the towering cedar, its frail branches filled with birds and wildlife, but that is not the point.
That would be the character needed for a good gardener or farmer, especially in fairly dry and rocky terrain, as much of Palestine is. Jesus, like Ezekiel and Paul, is referring to trust and patience, the ability to let nature – and nature’s God – work their miracle of life in the right way at the right time. Don’t expect instant success.
Patience is certainly not a virtue much in evidence today. As my venerable old first-grade teacher said, “I want what I want when I want it and I get it.” Sometimes. The waiting is hard. But that is where Paul’s advice to the Greek Christians of Corinth, a bustling port city, comes right to the point: “We walk by faith, not by sight.”
At the moment, world leaders from the seven major economies of the world are meeting on the rocky shores of Cornwall to hammer out policies and programs for dealing with the enormous challenges facing peoples everywhere – the Sars Covid-19 pandemic, which is devastating the poor countries of world, fragile peace accords, and perhaps the greatest challenge ever faced by humankind – a drastic climate change that will continue to disrupt not only economies, but the very existence of hundred of thousands if not millions of animal and plant species, including us.
These challenges will not be met and resolved overnight. But with trust and patience, they can, and must be, and will be resolved, if we only learn the lesson of the mustard seed and the towering Cedars of Lebanon. It will also require some very hard work. But humankind was set on this earth to garden, to tend and nurture Creation [Gen 2:15]. It’s time to get on with it.