16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Why do you come here and not to some other church? Why St. Mary’s and not St. Ann’s or St. Ambrose, or Shepherd of the Mountains or St. Luke’s? Most likely it is because you like the people. And most likely you like the people because someone has been kind to you here. Kindnesses are the little things we do for people just because we like them or respect them or care about them.
And we also perform little kindnesses to people we don’t even know all the time, don’t we? We hold the door open for them, we smile at them in the checkout line, we make a comment about how beautiful their baby is. We don’t do these little things because we want something in return. We do them just because that’s how we treat other human beings, just because they are human beings. We don’t even think about it, we just do it.
We hear in the book of wisdom today that justice is played out as kindness. We hear a lot about social justice these days, and not just in the religious sense. The big budget battles going on in Washington lately are couched in the language of social justice. What is fair. But justice is not fairness. It’s not about leveling the playing field or taking from the rich to give to the poor. True justice means giving all people what they are entitled to, just because they are human beings with inherent dignity. We tend to think of justice in terms of crime and punishment, but to God, justice is simply treating you as his child, just because you are his child. And because you are his child you enjoy certain rights and are bound by certain responsibilities.
And just because you think you have a right to do something does not make it just. Justice is allowing you to live the way you were intended to live. Just because you want to live a certain way doesn’t mean you were meant to live that way. Just because you want to do it does not make it right. And so sometimes justice seems unfair, because we don’t always want to live as we were meant to. Sometimes justice means we have to say no. Sometimes justice means someone needs to tell us no.
What makes a person kind? I think the thing people desire most is to feel that they are special and appreciated. We are kind when or actions make people feel that way. Most of us don’t go around working for the great causes of justice, but the mustard seeds of justice are the little kindnesses we do for other people. We can protest on the steps of the capitol, or pray in front of the abortion clinic, but it is kindness that changes people hearts. We change the world when we change the individual human heart. And we do that through kindness.
Have you ever had someone’s kindness to you affect your entire day? Has someone ever said or done something to you that just made you feel good about yourself, and changed your outlook on the day? Have you seen the commercials that show people in a city going about their day and one person does something to help a stranger, like pick up a dropped package or something, and then that person helps another person, and that one helps someone else, until finally it comes back around so that someone is nice to the first person who started it all? Paying it forward? That’s how grace works. That’s how our faith is lived out each day. Yes, we are called to stand up against the great evils of the day, but we act most like God when we do simple kindnesses for people.
These little kindnesses are the mustard seeds of justice. If we see the person in the checkout line as someone worthy of respect just because they are them, it makes it easier to make those bigger, tougher decisions later on, even reaching up to Capitol Hill. Social justice literally begins at home. And if kindness is the way we bring forth justice then we must begin by being kind to those closest to us. There are two types of kindness, active and passive. The greatest active kindness we do is to pray for the needs of others. Then there are the little kindnesses we do for those we love. We bring our spouse a cup of coffee in the morning; we pick up after our kids without complaining; we hold the door for someone at the office. But kindness can also be what we don’t do. We don’t blow up when our teenager comes home after curfew. We patiently wait for our wives to put on their makeup. We have compassion and understanding for the friend who is having a hard day.
It may be the small gestures that help us build our faith, too. We all have faith that began small. Grace is like that. The grace we are given never really goes away. It stays in us, and, like yeast, can cause the entirety of our faith to grow. We have no way of knowing if something that was given to us very early on is what we need today in order to make correct decisions.
That’s one reason we baptize infants. Something profound happens to our souls when we are baptized, and God’s grace enters into our lives in a very special way. A baby is incapable of sinning, however, by wiping away original sin God allows his grace to affect us, so that as we grow we will be more able to make correct decisions. The seeds planted in us as children affect the decisions we make as teenagers and adults.
A life of virtue is made up of thousands of small virtuous decisions, just as a life of evil is made up of thousands of incorrect decisions. Just as faith starts out as a very small seed, an idea planted in our hearts which can then affect our entire lives and the lives of the entire human race, so too evil. People are not born evil, we are all born good, and rarely do people make the decision to act evilly all at once in a big way. You don’t just wake up one day and decide to kill someone. Instead, we make decision upon decision upon decision throughout our lives, often beginning as children, that bring us to an evil, or good end.
Faith starts with a very small idea, and then affects all our other ideas as well. Someone once said that there is nothing more powerful in the world than an idea whose time has come. I’d say that there is nothing more powerful than a single person’s faith. The faith of one person affects their entire family, their workplace, their neighborhood, town, and nation. And I think that is the message of hope we hold for the world. Because while that yeast is only a fraction of the ingredients used in the bread, it causes the entire loaf of dough to rise. The world seems to be growing more and more indifferent to God every day. The rest of the dough isn’t very good, but all it takes is us, that small measure of yeast, to help it all to rise. Do you know that there is a bakery in San Francisco that has been making sourdough bread with the same hunk of mother yeast for the past 100 years! The yeast even gives rise to itself, and they keep it in a special refrigerator under lock and key, because without that special yeast the bread would not have its particular taste and texture.
The Church is like that. Though the dough of the world has been mostly poor throughout history, the yeast of the Church has helped it to rise. We must guard it and cherish it and protect it so that it can continue to give mankind its special taste and texture. Our yeast is what God uses to bring justice to the world.
Christians are like mustard seeds. We can and are the yeast for the entire world. The world is a big place, but our faith can raise up the entire world, even if there are only a few of us left. Remember, Jesus started with twelve.
Jesus was kind. If you think back about all he did in his life what he really was was a kind man. He did things, great and small, for other people just because they deserved it simply because they were his children. Pope Paul VI said if you want peace work for justice. I will add, and do it by being kind to one another.
Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that small groups of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed it's the only thing that ever has." We can change the world, one heart at a time. And the first heart that must change is my own.