She was a young nun, Sister Mary Theresa, and she was a member of an Irish order of nuns, The Loretto Sisters. In her youthful innocence she told her bishop once that she had had a dream that God wanted her to build an orphanage and that she also had three pennies. The bishop smiled at her and said, “Sister, you can’t build anything with only three little pennies.” The young nun responded, “With three pennies and God I can do anything.” This little event happened long before this nun became known to the world as Mother Theresa of Calcutta and before she founded the Sisters of Charity who are now, not just in India, but in many countries in the world. Her order is one of the largest and fastest growing too.
This little story reminds me of a wonderful parable that Jesus told about the Kingdom of God. The version I am thinking about appears in Mark 4:26-34. It has two elements; one deals with a farmer who scatters seed across his field and goes to sleep at night and rises in the morning, day after day. He knows not how it happens, but the seeds and the land on its own accord yields fruit, “first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come.”
In the second part of the passage, Jesus tells us the story of the mustard seed and how it compares to the Kingdom of God. We are told that, as seeds go, this one is the smallest of them all. “But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
This wonderful parable is a metaphor for what would happen as the result of the Incarnation of Jesus and the work of the Apostles, whom Jesus commissioned to bring the Good News to all the earth. The Church began in an out-of-the-way place in the world, a backwater in the Roman Empire. Jesus called 12 men to him and began to teach them about the one way, the one truth, and the one life that will bring all humanity back to Eden, back to the Kingdom of God. They were the mustard seed that would grow to include billions of followers in every nation on earth today.
Another reading from scripture comes to mind as well. It is a passage from the Letter of Paul to the (2) Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 6. Here Paul says, “So we are always courageous, although we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk in faith, not by sight.
The modern parable of smallness represented in Mother Theresa’s story, reflects both of these readings in the world today. It argues that the same truth still applies today, just as it did in the time of Jesus. Mother Theresa was a living example of the “mustard seed”. She was small, but her faith in God was great. In her smallness and in her faith something grew, by the grace of God, into a great tree of charity, a tree that brings the love of God to the care of the poorest of the poor, to those dying without friends or family, that brings companionship to those who have been abandoned by the rest of humanity.
These scripture passages, and the real life experiences of a little nun, show us that, if we walk in faith, God will continue to do great things in and for the world through us.
Greatness is not a matter of power, or fame. The kind of greatness that God works through our smallness and our faith is meant for our families, for the small worlds that we all inhabit in our daily lives with our neighbors and our co-workers. The great majority of us will never be famous, after all. We are just ordinary people. But in our ordinariness, God asks us to be extraordinarily kind, loving, forgiving, generous, and hospitable toward all those we live with in this world. We are God’s mustard seeds. He has sown us into the world. If we have faith; if we walk in that faith with God, he will never abandon us, rather, he will make good things happen through us for the People of God.