The Smallness of God

11th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

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In our readings from Mass today, the Lord extols smallness.  In our first reading from Ezekiel, God speaks of taking a small shoot from a cedar and planting it on the mountain heights of Israel, where it becomes a majestic cedar with birds of every kind dwelling under it (Ez 17:22-24).  In our gospel reading today Jesus uses similar language when He describes the kingdom of God as being like a mustard seed; the smallest of all seeds that when fully grown becomes the largest of plants with birds of the sky dwelling in its shade (Mk 4:26-34).

God seems to delight in doing big things with the small.  He raises up the bowed down and exalts the lowly.  This is certainly not the only time in scripture we hear of how good it is to be small.  Elsewhere Jesus speaks of being small as a prerequisite for heaven.  We are told that unless we become like little children we will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 18:3).  Jesus speaks of the way to heaven as being like a narrow gate (Mt 7:13), and even compares entering heaven to passing through the eye of a needle (Mt 19:24; Mk 10:25).  It would seem that to pass through that narrow gate into heaven, we — like Alice in Wonderland — must ourselves become small.

Why does God love smallness so?  I suggest that it is because He Himself is small.  I speak of the great humility of God.  Come again?  How can God, the Creator of the Universe, omnipotent and eternal, Who sits on the throne of heaven with the earth as His footstool, adored by angels and archangels — how can this God be small and humble?  Jesus Himself says, “I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29), so we know it must be so.

Consider this.  God is the highest of all beings.  Everything else that exists was created by Him, comes from Him, and is therefore lower than Him.  We may think that such a condition would make humility impossible, but paradoxically from His heights, God shows us the perfect virtue of humility.  Remember that God is Love, and love always desires to move outside the self to the other.  For God, the highest of all beings, any movement outside of Himself is always a lowering and humbling movement.  In a manner of speaking, God has nowhere to go but down.

This is why we speak of Jesus “humbling Himself.”  In that great poetic passage of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the Apostle writes that we should have the same attitude of Jesus Christ, “Who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.  Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave … He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.  Because of this, God greatly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name” (Phil 2:6-9).

It is good for us to be small, like the mustard seed, for several reasons.  First, it is a recognition of the truth, for we are all small before the majesty of God.  Humility begins by recognizing and living in that truth.  But also, when we are small we are like Christ, who made Himself small for us.  And as today’s readings tell us, God delights in doing great things with that which is small.  In Christ’s humility, God exalted Him.  And so if we share in Christ’s humility, in His smallness, we will also share in His exaltation and be brought with Him into the delights of the kingdom of heaven.