The Judeo-Christian tradition is sacramental in character. This means that the whole is contained in the smallest of its parts. The whole of the world resides in each of its constituent elements, and the entire body of Christ in a loaf, a piece or a crumb of bread.
In a similar way, the whole of God’s infinite love condescends to be present in the smallest gesture of kindness, and divine justice in its entirety is manifest even in the merest desire to right a wrong. In fact the part, the insubstantial fragment, invokes the whole, which does not fail to respond.
Jesus uses a parable from agricultural life to convey this teaching. The mustard seed, tiny nearly to the point of invisibility, nonetheless draws to itself water, sun, and nutrients, and grows into a tree in which the birds of the air make their nests -the whole, present in and invoked by its smallest constituent element.
Many are feeling anxious as Inauguration Day approaches. Even some who believe the country needs an iconoclast are apprehensive about which icons the new President will shatter, and at what cost. It helps, in these times, to remember Jesus’s first teaching: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” The King’s invisible legions surround us. A mere quickening of the heart, a mustard seed of repentance buried within, suffices to summon them. Aware that less strenuous times lull us into complacency, they have held in trust the gifts we need for the facing of this more demanding hour: an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love God and, yes, the fragile yet indispensable and invincible capacity for joy and wonder in all of God’s works.