6/17: Great and Small

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4 Pentecost, June 17

1 Sam. 15:34-16:13 or Ezek. 17:22-24
Ps. 20 or Ps. 92:1-4, 11-14
2 Cor. 5:6-10 (11-13), 14-17Mark 4:26-34

“Let us now sing the praises of famous men, our ancestors in their generations” (Sir. 44). There were in former times women and men of great glory and majesty, who ruled with valor, gave great counsel, spoke in prophetic circles, preserved the knowledge and lore of their people, were wise in their instruction, composed musical tunes, wrote poetry, lived peaceably in their homes, were honored in their generation, were the pride of their time, and made a name for themselves. There is, indeed, no accounting for Christ’s one holy catholic and apostolic Church without constant recourse to the life and witness of those who were great in their generation, who knew that God gave them a purpose, and who rose to the height of their divine calling.

In a sense, Christian tradition simply is Christianity. Great stories, great lives, great writings, great buildings, and great music make the Church, provided the Church recalls that the great cannot exist without the small, nor the small without the great, and that all are of essential use in one body (St. Clement to the Corinthians, cap. 36). Every great story and every great life rests on the foundation of a thousand small things and myriad unknown persons, all of whom and all of which are great and small to God together. The Lord casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly from everlasting to everlasting so that, in the end, God alone is great and everything small. The great St. Augustine calls himself “a portion of creation, a man carrying his mortality and the witness of his sin, and the witness that you resist the proud” (Confessio, Ii). Your small life is the raw material of God’s great goodness.

King David was the least of his brothers, the youngest and the smallest. He was ruddy and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome, which for the time were the marks of someone weak. But the Lord looks on the heart. The strength of strong men and their chariots and their horses will collapse and fall, but the grace of God upon the least, the last, and the lost will endure forever (Ps. 20:8-10). A restored nation and a new people begin as a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar. “From the top a tender shoot I will break off and transplant on a high, lofty mountain,” says the Lord (Ezek. 17:22).

Again and again, tales of the insignificant mark the great movement of God’s grace. Jesus said the kingdom of God “is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how” (Mark 4:26-27). The kingdom of God “is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. 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” (Mark 4:31-32).

The kingdom of God will not come until a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies. In Christ, all have died, “so that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

Whoever would be great among you must be the least of all. Claim, in Christ, the great dignity of your small life.

Look It Up
Read Ezek. 17:22.

Think About It
I saw a lone small cedar growing up through an ancient lava flow.


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