Seeds of Faith
Twenty-Sixth Sunday of the Year. Fr Jonathan Fleetwood preaches on the Church as sacrament of the Kingdom.
Today’s first reading from the Book of Numbers echoes in pattern the first section of the Gospel. Moses, in the first reading, has appointed seventy elders to help him in his mission. The Spirit comes down upon the seventy, but also upon two others not in the group. The seventy complain and want the two stopped, but they are rebuked by Moses. Moses recognises the two outsiders as a sign of the potentiality of the whole ‘people of the Lord’.
Similarly in the Gospel, Jesus has appointed twelve apostles to work in his mission. The apostles come upon someone else doing a work which is part of their own mission from Jesus and try to stop him. They want confirmation from Jesus in this, but he rebukes them and says that if the work is done in his name then it is not at odds with his mission.
The mission of both Moses and Jesus presupposes that God is already at work with his Spirit in the world. The group of seventy or twelve (symbolic numbers) are sign and witness to this. They refer to God’s activity in the world. They do not encapsulate it.
This pattern of the two examples, Old Testament and New Testament, is the same pattern that we see in the relationship of the Church to the World. As Vatican II says, the Church is sign, sacrament and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of mankind. Both the seventy and the twelve stood as signs of this same relationship to the world of their time.
We recognise this pattern when adults come to be received into union with the Church. They are not empty vessels waiting to be filled. They already have the seeds of faith working in them. God is working in them. Jesus himself often turns to ‘outsiders’, those who recognise him. He recognises the faith at work in them: ‘Your faith has saved you’. This is mutual recognition, Jesus of the person and the person of Jesus. The words ‘your faith has saved you’, are said to the Centurion , the Canaanite woman, the Syrophoenician woman, aliens to the Jewish faith, and also to the marginalised, the blind man, the one of ten lepers, the woman sinner, and so on.
Both Old and New Testament attest that a single God is working at all times and everywhere in the whole of creation and in the whole of the history of the world. All mankind is enveloped in this. God’s life and Spirit is given to men. This gives rise to the ancient view that in all times and places the ‘seeds of the Word’ are to be found. This theme has been especially developed since Vatican II.
The world and history are filled with seeds of the Word. The ‘inchoate reality of the kingdom’ is outside the Church among peoples everywhere, amongst those who are open to the Spirit who breathes when and where he wills. The function of the Church is to raise up and perfect and bring into the Church-sign the reality of unity of whatever is found sown in the minds and hearts of men.
All evangelisation depends upon this model. The Word which is sown in the minds and hearts of man may be found both in individuals and in the rites and customs of different peoples. It is brought by the Spirit into unity of faith in Baptism.It does not stop there. Those drawn into the fold of the seventy elders or twelve apostles still need constant drawing into the continuous daily sign of unity. All evangelise and all are evangelised.
Evangelisation takes place in many places. Paul VI saw it taking place within the family: ‘All members evangelise and are evangelised. The parents not only communicate the Gospel to their children, but from their children they can themselves receive the same Gospel as deeply lived by them’. At the offertory of children’s Masses the community often receive insights from the children’s coloured drawings. The Church in preaching the Gospel message of Jesus recognises the seeds of faith and the seeds of the Word which the living Creator God has sown in man. She is the sign of that, the Church in the World.