Friday, June 15, 2012

'Big Bang' and Mustard Seeds

Eleventh Ordinary Sunday Year B

The Big Bang theory is an effort to explain what happened at the very beginning of our universe, 12- 14 billion years ago. Discoveries in astronomy and physics have shown beyond a reasonable doubt that our universe did in fact have a beginning. So, the Bible was right after all! Prior to that moment there was nothing; during and after that moment there was something: our universe. The Big Bang theory attempts to explain what happened during and after that moment. What brought about the Big Bang? Well, for scientists more speculations and theorising. Whereas for us Christians, we know the truth. If there was a Big Bang, God was the cause of it.

There are many misconceptions, however, about the nature of the Big Bang. The Big Bang Theory is actually a misnomer. The impression that we get from its name is that there was this great pyrotechnic display of cosmic proportions – a giant explosion. Experts however say that there was no explosion; there was (and continues to be) an expansion – the first thing to exist was a tiny object named by scientists as a singularity and this singularity expanded into our current universe.  Rather than imagining a balloon popping and releasing its contents, imagine a balloon expanding: an infinitesimally small balloon expanding to the size of our current universe.

Another misconception is that we tend to image the singularity as a little fireball appearing somewhere in space. According to the many experts however, space didn't exist prior to the Big Bang. The singularity didn't appear in space; rather, space began inside the singularity. Prior to the singularity, nothing existed, not space, time, matter, or energy - nothing. What is a "singularity" and where does it come from? Well, to be honest, we don't know for sure. Singularities are zones which defy our current understanding of physics. So where and in what did the singularity appear if not in space? We don't know. We don't know where it came from, why it's here, or even where it is. All we really know is that we are inside of it and at one time it didn't exist and neither did we. We Christians seem to have a further advantage. We know where that first singularity or existence came from. God spoke the Word, and so it was.

I’m not a big fan of astrophysics and don’t even claim to be able to hold a torch up to the likes of Stephen Hawkings or Einstein but what I found interesting are the parallels between the Big Bang Theory and the two parables involving seeds in today’s gospel. The parables speak of both the beginnings as well as the development of the Kingdom of God. The parallel with the Big Bang Theory is obvious. The Kingdom of God, just like the tiny mustard seed or the singularity which is the seed of the known universe, has humble and small beginnings but will eventually end up with great big mega results. The growth of the Kingdom, just like the many unanswered questions in the Big Bang theory or like the parable of the man who scatters in the dark of the night whilst everyone is asleep, will remain largely hidden and mysterious. The scale of its expanse and magnitude would only be apparent when one examines the final result.  

The Parables of the seed together with its quantum physics equivalent presents to us several important lessons regarding the Christian life.

The first lesson is that we should never despise nor overlook the significance of small things. The beginning of the universe and the Kingdom of God can both be traced to such humble beginnings. We are often tempted to believe that our ventures must by preceded by a great deal of groundwork and planning, massive promotions and advertisements, big rallies, spectacular shows. The Gospel Story of the Kingdom of God did not begin in such manner. Jesus was born in a humble manger among stable animals, with poor shepherds as his court retinue. His birth was not marked by dramatic accounts of the Son of God, the King of the Universe, being born in the most opulent palace of the wealthiest and most powerful monarch of the world. Great empires have crumbled, civilisations have become extinct but the Christian faith planted by the life, death and resurrection of this humble carpenter from an obscure part of the world would survive the tests of time. Small and humble beginnings place the entire catalyst and mover of the narrative in the hands of God and not in the devices of man.

A second lesson that may also be derived from the parables is that the Work of God is often unobservable or incomprehensible. Just because we are unable to detect or perceive God working silently in the background, does not mean that he is inactive or insensitive to our plight. We are often tempted to look for major signs and portents, immediate results and easy answers to our questions and prayers. When these are not forthcoming, we descend into frustration and anger, especially directed against God. But Jesus wanted his disciples, and us, to know that what is observable on the surface may not be an accurate measure of the final outcome. The story of the seed remind us of the inner dynamism of the Kingdom, a God who is constantly and faithfully at work even when man ceases to work, even when we have chosen to give up, even when everyone else has chosen to abandon this enterprise.

The third lesson is an important reminder that Christian life is ultimately eschatological. All things will become apparent at the end. The humble beginnings, the awkward and unplanned detours, the obstacles and setbacks, the disappointments and failures, the temporal success and victories do not mark the end of the story. What is definitive are the final fruits of the Kingdom which is not just a wild bet but a factual certainty – the harvest will come and the mustard seed will eventually grow into that large shady tree that will host all the array of the heaven. This eschatological dimension reminds Christians that we must always live in hope despite our present difficulties. We may be tempted to give up and call it quits as all the odds seemed to be stacked against us. But then, there is the other reality – the hidden reality, the reality with humble beginnings but a cosmic-scaled ending. It is the reality of the Kingdom of God established by Christ first coming and fully completed and realised at his Second.

The themes contained in today’s parable are best illustrated in the beautiful prayer popularly attributed to the late Archbishop Oscar Romero.  The real truth behind this prayer is that it was composed by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, drafted for a homily by Card. John Dearden in Nov. 1979 for a celebration of departed priests. As a reflection on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop Romero, Bishop Untener included in a reflection book a passage titled "The mystery of the Romero Prayer." The mystery is that the words of the prayer are attributed to Oscar Romero, but they were never spoken by him. Here I conclude with this prayer.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realising that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

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