Big things and Little ‘uns — Thoughts on Proper 22

So much of our attention is drawn to items both large and small. World events dominate news broadcasts directing our attention to the conflict between nations or ideologies, the aggressive misbehavior of the morally diminished, and the internecine savagery that has become the hallmark of our age. I’m not sure about anyone else, but most of the reports I read or see that direct my attention to the macro level leave me feeling pretty powerless. After all, there’s not much I can directly do about politicos behaving badly. I seem to have no ability to influence those whose intent is the spread evil or destruction, and I can’t redirect the energies of global corporations from avarice to self-spending benevolence. I can’t prevent people in pain from self-medicating with alcohol and drugs and I can’t halt the sociopathic energy of those who would produce and sell the vehicles of their descent into addiction.

Interestingly, as the media documents the deterioration of global harmony, the scientific world is fairly exploding with microcosmic discoveries that simply reinforce my sense of personal impotence. My behaviors, emotions, relational interactions, appetites, desires and dreams are not really the product of a unique and unrepeatable self – they are simply the result of capricious internal chemical exchanges that could as easily appear in a Petrie dish as they do in my skin-bounded biological mechanism. The fabric of creation, the building blocks of reality, are particles so infinitesimally small that billions of dollars worth of high tech equipment at the CERN particle accelerator can only suggest their existence. While the astonishing advances of Western medicine make the cure of all but the most deadly of physical maladies possible, I cannot access those wonders without the mediation of a credentialed (and expensive) medical mediator, the modern day equivalent of a high priestly shaman leaving me SOL if I don’t have adequate insurance coverage or substantial personal resource.

So the message of the modern is that big things count and little things count, but medium sized things (like you and me) don’t matter a whole lot.

 

I’ve often wondered how frequently Jesus smiled, or if he ever winked mischievously when he shared a thought or insight that might have sounded shocking in his friends’ hearing. This week’s Gospel lesson would have been, in my humble opinion, very wink-worthy:

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. (Luke 17:5)

I can well imagine that Jesus’ friends appreciated the playful sense of paradox in this assertion as well as other teachings like the old “camels and needle’s eyes” gag (what’s even more humorous is the frantic attempts by some literalists to explain dimensions of first century Palestinian thread sizes so that Jesus doesn’t wind up looking foolish to moderns).

When I was young, it was not unusual to see ladies wearing a pendant of crystal clear glass with a tiny yellow dot at the center – a mustard seed. It never occurred to me that something so small could have much power, but then, I knew nothing about the Higgs Boson back then (to be honest, I still don’t know anything about it other than the assertion that it is at the base of all things), nor did I realize that something as small as a seed could have so much power packed inside it that with the addition of a little water and a warm medium it could produce life in abundance (just ask the folks who keep avoiding me when I seek to unload my annual explosion of zucchini on others).

Of course, that’s where things get interesting in my thinking. It turns out that tiny little seeds are static, inert until a medium sized thing does something with them (like plant them or sprinkle them on their salads to be eaten or share them with someone else). And big things like tyrants and politicians and avaricious corporations (often indistinguishable from each other) only have the power that medium sized things give them. So, what’s really important in the world of big things and little ‘uns is the agency and activity of the medium sized things of creation.

I suspect that what may have been behind the smile and wink in this verse was an invitation to embrace something momentous. It just may be that while I might have lived a long and happy life while remaining blissfully ignorant of the existence of the Higgs Boson, I miss something vital, elemental if I ignore a reality much more evident. That reality, indicated in almost cartoon like fashion in the Matrix trilogy, is that I, a collection of little things and a participant in big ones, am a source of incredible energy. It turns out that faith is energy. That’s not surprising, considering that love is energy and hatred is energy and compassion is energy and fear is energy and thought is energy and even laughter (if Monsters, Inc is correct) is energy. Ultimately, everything, according to Einstein, is energy and the only energy that is ineffective is the energy that isn’t used.

And I, who can too easily become accustomed to feeling powerless by the voices of negativity so characteristic of our age, I have the capacity to exercise remarkable power. I suspect that one of the most important things we do as we move through life is learning how to harness and use that energy and to determine whether it will be used for global good or ill, for building up or tearing down, for the enrichment or depletion of others.

Or just moving mulberry trees.