The readings today speak of God’s providence, which is often displayed in humble, hidden, and mysterious ways. While it is true that God sometimes works in overpowering ways, His more common method seems to be to use the humble and even unlikely things of the created order to accomplish His goals.
For us who are disciples, there are three related teachings that speak of how God will make use of us and of others. It will also be good to link these teaching to Father’s Day, which occurs next weekend in the U.S. These three teachings can be described as Adaptability, “Awe-Ability,” and Accountability.
I. ADAPTABILITY – In today’s first reading as well as in the gospel, we hear how God can take something humble and adapt it to be mighty and powerful.
The tender shoot of the first reading becomes a mighty oak: I, [the Lord], will take from the crest of the cedar … a tender shoot, and plant it on a high and lofty mountain; … It shall put forth branches and bear fruit, and become a majestic cedar (Ezekiel 17:22-23).
The mustard seed of the first reading becomes a great shade tree: 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 (Mk 4:32-33).
Yes, God adapts us for His purposes and no one should say, “I cannot be used.” An old song says, “If you can use anything Lord, you can use me.” And an old litany says,
The next time you think God can’t use you, remember
Noah was a drunk
Abraham was too old
Isaac was a daydreamer
Jacob was a liar
Leah was ugly
Joseph was abused
Moses was murderer had a stuttering problem
Gideon was afraid
Samson had long hair and was a womanizer
Rahab was a prostitute
Jeremiah and Timothy were too young
David had an affair and was a murderer
Elijah was suicidal
Isaiah preached naked
Jonah ran from God
Naomi was a widow
Job went bankrupt and was depressed
Peter denied Christ
The Disciples fell asleep while praying
Martha worried about everything
The Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once
Zacchaeus was too small
Paul was too religious
Timothy had an ulcer
Lazarus was dead!
No excuses then, God chooses the weak and makes them strong
In fact, it is often our very weakness that is the open door for God. In our strength we are usually too proud to be of any use to Him. Moses was too strong at age forty when he pridefully murdered a man, thinking he was doing both the Jews and God a favor. It was only forty years later, at the age of eighty, that was Moses weak and humble enough to depend on God. Only then could God use him.
We are invited in this principle to consider that it is not merely in the “biggie-wow” things we do that God can work. It is also in the humble and imperfect things about us, the mustard seed of faith, the tiny shoots, and the humble growth that God can magnify His power.
So the first principle is adaptability. God can take and adapt even the humblest, most ordinary, lowliest things and from them bring forth might and lasting fruit. Never despair over what is most humble about you, or that you are of little account on the world’s stage. It is precisely our humble state that God most often uses to bring forth His greatest and most lasting works.
II. “AWE-ABILITY” – This is the capacity to reverence mystery and to have wonder and awe at what God does. In today’s gospel, Jesus emphasizes that though a man plants seeds, he does not really know the deeper mysteries of life and growth:
This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how (Mk 4:26-27).
Despite our often self-congratulatory celebration of our scientific prowess and of how much we know, there is much more that we neither know nor understand. We do well to maintain a reverential awe of the deeper mysteries of God’s works and His ways. We are also rather poor at assessing how effective our methods are. We may come away from a project considering it to have been very effective, and yet little comes of it in the long run. Conversely, sometimes what we consider to have been an ineffective effort may bear great fruit. God works in His own ways and we do well to remember that God can surprise us, reminding us that He is able and is in charge.
Some years ago, a friend of mine had on her desk a “God can.” It was a metal cookie tin with the following saying on its cover: “He worketh in strange and mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.” Into this box she would place slips of papers on which were written the challenges, struggles, and failures of her life. When she met the limits of her strengths and abilities, she would say, “I can’t … but God can.” So into this metal “God can” went the slips of paper, placed there in the hope that God would make a way out of no way. And quite often He did.
We do well to cultivate a sense of wonder and awe at who God is and how He works. Not only does this bring us joy, but it also opens us to hope and to the possibility that God can work in hidden ways to exalt what is humble and to transform those who are cast down and troubled, including us and our culture. As we saw in the “adaptability” section, it is often in the humblest things that God does His mightiest works.
III. ACCOUNTABILITY – If it is true that we can’t, but God can; if it is true that God can use us mightily despite our humble state, our weakness, and even our sin; then there can be no excuse for not bearing fruit in our life. All of us are accountable to the Lord as to how we let Him use us and work through us to further His Kingdom,
The second reading today reminds us, For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil (2 Cor 5:9-10).
As we have seen, God is able to adapt and to work in wondrous and hidden ways to lift us up, even if we are humble and struggling. Given this capacity of God’s, we must one day render an account of how we have responded to God’s grace and His invitation to be exalted.
On the Day of Judgment, the answer “I couldn’t” will ring hollow because, as we have seen, “God can.” Today’s readings remind us to be open to what God can do, often in mysterious ways, and even with the most humble things in our lives.
As Father’s Day approaches, I am calling the men in my parish to account. I am summoning them to spend a year preparing, with prayer, Bible study, and fellowship to make the following pledge:
I DO solemnly resolve before God to take full responsibility for myself, my wife, and my children.
I WILL love them, protect them, serve them, and teach them the Word of God as the spiritual leader of my home.
I WILL be faithful to my wife, love and honor her, and be willing to lay down my life for her as Jesus Christ did for me.
I WILL bless my children and teach them to love God with all of their heart, all of their mind, and all of their strength.
I WILL train my children to honor authority and to live responsibly.
I WILL confront evil, pursue justice, and love mercy.
I WILL pray for others and treat them with kindness, respect, and compassion.
I WILL work diligently to provide for the needs of my family.
I WILL forgive those who have wronged me and reconcile with those I have wronged.
I WILL learn from my mistakes, repent of my sins, and walk with integrity as a man answerable to God.
I WILL seek to honor God, be faithful to His church, obey His Word, and do His will.
I WILL work courageously with the strength God provides to fulfill this resolution for the rest of my life and for His glory.
As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).
This resolution comes from a movie of a few years ago called Courageous, which I strongly recommend you see (if you have not already done so).
Indeed all of us, men and women, will be held accountable. For even if we can’t, God can. And even if we feel too humble and insignificant, God does His greatest work with humble things and humble people. For us, it is simply to say that we have an adaptability that God can use. This should inspire in us an “Awe-ability” that joyfully acknowledges God’s often secretive and hidden power. If that be the case, then, knowing our accountability, it simply remains for us to say, “If you can use anything, Lord, you can use me!”