To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman takes and sticks into flour; three small measures leavens the whole.”
As I read this morning’s gospel, I flashed back in memory to some 54 years ago. It was late August of 1961, and I was buying books for my sophomore year in high school. At that time, a student would hand his schedule to a member of the faculty who would then accompany the student down the tables of books, selecting out the appropriate books for each course. As my turn approached, a young Brother Aquin, whom I had known from my participation in the freshman glee club the year before, stepped up to help me collect my books. He greeted me warmly and when he saw my schedule said: “How good. You are in my French class!”
There may be few less self-conscious and self-doubting people on the face of the earth than 15 year old sophomores in high school. At least this was true in my personal experience. In a moment, however, I had passed from my usual timid and tentative self to a sense of at home-ness, not only at school but in myself. A small act of warmth, kindness, and welcoming had transformed, not only for a moment but clearly in memory for life, my sense of being valued and of my own personal worth.
It is through your life of gospel witness
lived in community with others
that God desires to manifest
care and compassionate love
to those who are separated and estranged,
not only from their neighbors,
but also from their own uniqueness . . . .
In the grand scheme of things, a chance encounter between a young teacher and a self-doubtful student on a late August morning is the most ordinary and mundane of happenings. Although I can’t remember, I suspect that when I returned home I would have told my parents that things “went fine” and perhaps that I had seen Brother Aquin. Although, perhaps, my demeanor was a bit more upbeat than usual, I would not otherwise have betrayed that anything out of the ordinary had occurred. And yet, all these years later, it is clear that the yeast of the manifestation of God’s “care and compassionate love” had been mixed into the flour of my own life. I had experienced someone’s moment of joy and delight in my presence. If, by any chance, I have been able to offer that to someone in the course of the following 54 years, it is due in no small part to that ordinary act of kindness and love extended to me by Brother Aquin on that uneventful August morning.
We live in a world of constant information concerning national and global affairs. Much of what occupies our attention are the words and actions of the “great and powerful people” of the world, but Jesus tells us today that the kingdom of God may well be taking root in those situations and moments that escape our notice. Where we least expect, we may be receiving from or offering to another person the gift of life, the potentially transformative love of God. The seed may be being planted in the soil or the yeast being mixed into the flour of the infinitely valuable life of another person. What we offer, or receive, as a small measure of yeast may become in the other’s life, and the lives of those they touch, the bread of life for a hungry world.
The ordinary, then, is the ground where we were first located, where God had known us – and delighted in what we already were and had – before we came to know and define ourselves in another way.
What constitutes the ordinary? These are seemingly the “givens” in our life, the contingencies beyond our choosing – the time, society, and culture into which we are born; the genealogies arising from our ancestry; the realities, potencies, potentials, and limits that develop from our innate biologies and psychologies; the inevitabilities that come with being biologically human. Though “givens,” these factors of our being are not just accidents of nature or social happenstance. All of these “givens” are graced by God, the Source from which they all originate. The Source is a “common good” (ghemeyne goet) for, according to Ruusbroec, all human beings, despite their religious and cultural differences are graced (GB, 63-66). And since this source is common, no attribute or character in an individual or ethnolinguistic subgroup is better than others.
Working Paper on Xaverian Spirituality