We know that with most any accomplishment there is much that goes on behind the scenes. In sports, there’s hours and hours of practice. The same goes for an opera or a play on stage; memorizing the lines, the timing of those lines during rehearsals, and so forth.
With firefighters and police, there’s much studying and real-time preparation before they receive their badges. A couple days ago we had in our city a new class of firefighters come on the job with their graduation from the Worcester Fire Academy. They performed 15 weeks of preparation behind the scenes and are now prepared to perform their duties for real on the streets of Worcester.
Our music ministry prepares every week behind the scenes so they are on the same page. We wouldn’t want Henry playing one song, and Bridget singing another. That would be interesting to listen to. Rather, they are professionals at what they do, with much preparing for the beautiful music we hear and join to sing at our liturgy.
And maybe the best example of behind the scenes work for us in our Catholic faith that happens only a handful of times over the course of one’s lifetime; the choosing of a new Pope. Before the white smoke appears from the famous chimney, all the behind the scenes preparation that goes into a conclave, and in the actual voting that occurs in the Sistine Chapel where a few Cardinals from the College of Cardinals take a short siesta during the process.
This behind the scenes process is no different for Jesus and his Disciples, as we see in today’s Gospel. Our Lord teaches a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven being like a mustard seed that you can barely see. And later on, after the teaching of the story, Jesus reveals to his Disciples behind the scenes, in private, the deeper meaning of the parable. Which makes a person wonder what our Lord tells the Disciples that he didn’t tell the crowds, because the Scriptures don’t let us know. Or do they?
When Jesus teaches a parable, he never wants his listeners to not understand the story’s meaning. That would defeat his purpose. He wants everyone listening to understand some aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven, and what his Kingdom is like. Which is why he uses an image such as a mustard seed and the huge growth resembling the Kingdom of God. Speaking to people who live off the land, they understand this image he uses.
If we want to teach a religious lesson to a 7-year-old, we speak a language they understand. In Religious Education, we don’t teach 3rd -graders from books that are meant for 10th -graders. Jesus teaches parables, such as the mustard seed, to the crowds and his Disciples, knowing that those who hear him understand what he’s teaching.
So, why the private conversation with his Disciples behind the scenes? What do they receive from the Lord that the crowds do not? Here’s my guess; some of it is found in today’s 2nd reading from St. Paul. Jesus doesn’t explain to his chosen Apostles mustard seeds, their size, and how they grow. They already know this. He explains to them in private that we walk by faith, and not by sight. To walk by faith in the Son of God, which is what we do, will allow the seed of our souls to grow large. So he tells them in private, “Teach the world the necessity of faith in me so that their mustard seed will not get squashed and stepped on. Tell them that to walk by faith, and not by the sight of a passing world, that their souls will grow to full maturity.”
He also explains to them in private that the day will come when they would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord. In the few instances when I see this in my priestly ministry, it’s such a beautiful thing to witness. Arriving at the point in life when we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord, not to welcome death, but to welcome eternal life, is the mustard seed grown to its fullness. Jesus tells them in private that that’s the point when the mustard seed of our souls is fully realized in this world, and it won’t grow here anymore.
It’s a powerful moment when a person of faith says, “I’m too tired. I’m too tired to fight this anymore. It’s time to go home to the Lord.” That’s a very moving admission on the part of a faithful Christian, and it’s a grace-filled moment, because we live in hope. That’s the sort of stuff our Lord tells them in private that he doesn’t tell the crowds, because the crowds won’t understand that language, but his Disciples will.
And, then he tells them privately, behind the scenes, that we must all appear before the judgment seat of God, so that we receive recompense according to what we did in the body, whether good or evil. He teaches his Disciples the words of St. Paul before Paul ever wrote them. Therefore, he tells them, “Help their mustard seeds to grow through Baptism, through love of neighbor, mercy, forgiveness, and through the many good acts that my people are capable of performing in the body. Teach them to be holy, as God our Father is holy, so that their spiritual plants will reach full maturity in whatever years they have to live.”
It sounds like Jesus gives them an earful behind the scenes, in private. An earful of how to arrive at the Kingdom of Heaven. An earful the crowds were not ready to hear, but his Disciples were ready. We’re ready too, because we’re today’s Disciples of him who is the Good Teacher.