HAVE you ever wondered how human life starts? I do. This body of mine, which is composed of about three trillion cells, actually began its life with the union of two cells in the process called fertilization. Sure, my father and my mother consciously planted the seeds of life, but how that simple zygote has grown into a baby and matured into the adult that I am today, is beyond full human comprehension. One thing is certain – God made it happen. Thus, with the psalmist, I declare to the Lord, “You formed my inmost being; you knot me in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know. My bones are not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, fashioned in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped before one came to be” (Psalm 139:13-16).
A parallel can be made to our gospel reading (Mark 4:26-34) this Sunday, in reference to the origin and growth of the Church. In verses 26 to 29, Jesus tells us that the establishment of the kingdom of God, which we now take as the Church, can be likened to a man scattering seed on the land. After scattering, the man would sleep and rise night and day. Without him knowing, the seed would sprout from the ground and grow – first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the grain is ripe, the man begins to harvest.
My reflection on this parable is that the evolution of the Church can be attributed not so much to human effort or intervention, but to God’s sovereignty. Of course, the apostles labored. So did the men who succeeded them down through the centuries, together with the ordinary people who did both simple and extraordinary things for God and his Church. Even we, in following St. Paul’s instruction to do everything for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), also labor for God’s kingdom in the ordinariness of everyday life.
Great or small, however, our contributions to the building of God’s kingdom should not make us proud or arrogant. Yes, we are all important but no one is indispensable. In the Corinthian church, when members were pitting their leaders – Apollos and Paul - to each other, Paul had this to say, “What is Apollos, after all, and what is Paul? Ministers through whom you became believers, just as the Lord assigned each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:5-7).
Yes, the Church grows only because of God. But even then, and until now, God honors, even invites, human cooperation. In Matthew 9:35-38, as Jesus went around towns and villages teaching in synagogues, proclaiming the gospel, and curing every disease and illness, his heart was moved with pity because he saw the people like sheep without a shepherd. So, he tells his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”
Why the need for laborers? Can’t God do it alone? Of course, he can. After all, he created the heavens and the earth by his own power, relying on no one except himself. The beauty of the matter, however, is that the all-powerful God empowers the powerless man to become his effective partner.
In making man his co-worker, God does not actually gain anything that he previously did not have. Psalm 24 clearly asserts that the earth and everything in it is the Lord’s. In making man his co-worker, God tests man’s faithfulness and prepares him for something bigger and grander. If we become good stewards to what God entrusts to us, we will surely hear his recurring words to the faithful ones in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.” But this, we can do only if we remain connected with Jesus, the vine without whom the branches can do nothing (John 15:5).
Finally, what is true to the Church is also true to our personal lives. Without a relationship with God, it is easy to fall prey to pride and arrogance when we succeed in life. With a relationship with him, however, we can remain humble acknowledging that everything is a grace from God. Our labors are made possible only by God’s providence, and our dreams and aspirations come to fruition only when God crowns our struggles with victory. “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build. Unless the Lord guards the city, in vain does the guard keep watch” (Psalm 127:1).