Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Great Provider

 “Happy Father’s Day” to the fathers among the various  gathered community and especially to those who are still in their prime time of discharging this important role of fatherhood.  I am just so glad that we continue to have this special day of honoring this special group of individuals.

I realize that some of these individuals have failed in the discharge of their parental duties and therefore most people think they are not quite deserving of whatever accolade the rest of the fathers are afforded on this very day. While that scenario looks sad and undeniably so, the truth is that it’s part of the reality out there; just as  on the other end of the pendulum there are other fathers who actually go beyond their expected role of fatherhood, as a result of their spouses having abandoned the equally important role of motherhood.

But traditionally, on this day, we call to remembrance those fathers who have carried out or are currently carrying out their duty as “provider” in the arena of parenthood.  And they do this exceptionally well especially with the help of and in partnership with their wives.

I used the word “traditionally” mainly because in times past, it was the father who took on the role of the “provider”. A typical scenario would be that Dad was the breadwinner in the family. He leaves for work with his lunch box already prepared by the loving and caring wife who stays home and takes care of the children. At the end of Dad’s workday, he first drops by with his buddies at the local watering hole and then comes home and enjoys supper with his family, again prepared by the wife. This pattern gets repeated for a few more days in the week.

This is the “ideal” dad, the best “Provider”, who gets honored on Father’s Day. Sounds familiar? Those of you who have no clue as to what I’m talking about must be truly younger than those who nodded their heads and gave the impression that they do.

Sadly, such arrangement has now become a kind of an artifact, a thing of the past in most cases, since it does not “hold water” anymore. Single parenthood is not an uncommon scenario when we talk of modern day parenthood. There are many, many cases of parenthood being borne by one parent fulfilling both roles. Hence, in today’s celebration, I also recognize and honor the mothers and others who had acted as fathers to children. They are living witnesses to the reality that being a “provider” is no longer the monopoly of the fathers.

I think I have said enough about the role of provider both being “traditionally” assigned to fathers as well as being fulfilled nowadays by mothers or in ideal situations, assigned to both parents. And so, to all who have fulfilled that role of “providers”, Happy Father’s Day and I hope nobody disagrees with the intent of such congratulations.

Moving on, let me continue by saying that the gospel lesson in today’s readings, undoubtedly, is among the familiar ones in all of Scripture. It contains two sets of parables or stories, which, while relatively shorter as compared to other stories in the Bible, are so powerful in themselves and have inspired so many people of faith through the centuries. They are stories that have something to do with the aforementioned role of “provider”.

Listen to them once more and see if you could spot their allusion to the concept of provider.

Jesus said, “This is what God’s kingdom is like. It’s as though someone scatters seed on the ground, then sleeps and wakes night and day. The seed sprouts and grows, but the farmer doesn’t know how. The earth produces crops all by itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full head of grain. Whenever the crop is ready, the farmer goes out to cut the grain because it’s harvest time.” He continued, “What’s a good image for God’s kingdom? What parable can I use to explain it? Consider a mustard seed. When scattered on the ground, it’s the smallest of all the seeds on the earth; but when it’s planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all vegetable plants. It produces such large branches that the birds in the sky are able to nest in its shade.”  (Mark 4:26-32 CEB)

Short but very pregnant stories; so loaded with serious implications in life. The first story is a gentle reminder of the often-neglected truth that God is indeed the “Great Provider”.

As I have repeatedly noted in previous homilies, our common tendency is to assume and claim ownership or hold dominion over things or people around us. At times we get so successful in doing so without regard to other people’s dignity and we perpetuate it almost as a norm. In no time we are led to believe that the “blessings and comforts” we enjoy are due to us and not from this Great Provider. Many follow this path but that’s just not right!

Jesus’ story, of how the Kingdom of God is being compared to a farmer sowing seeds that live and thrive on their own and get ready to be harvested, points us to the presence and generosity of the Great Provider, the All Merciful and Loving Father of us all.

We must never forget that every good thing that we experience in this journey we call life – even those that come about through our own efforts, is only but a reflection of God’s goodness and power, never ours.  Whatever good we are able to do or whatever qualities we possess are possible and exist only because our God, the Great Provider, made that to happen. 

Each of us only has a certain kind of “importance” and “worth” not because God has singled us out or exalted us as individuals over others, but because we are created out of God’s love and formed in God’s image.

Jesus used this parable to illustrate what the “Kingdom of God” could like. Taken in the sense of God as the Great Provider, we can then say that the Kingdom of God will see its final coming only when we cease or stop making that erroneous claim that things are what they are because of our inventiveness and ingenuity.

And we’re not quite there yet, to be honest. Perhaps, one reason why Jesus included the phrase “thy kingdom come” in the prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer is to encourage us to be relentless in our asking of that time when we could honestly claim that everything we have and enjoy is not because of our own doing but comes forth only from the Great Provider.

The second story in our gospel lesson is the famous Parable of the Mustard Seed. Needless to say, we have heard this story so many times and on those occasions, our attention was drawn to the particulars of “smallness”.

I recall being always awed by how this “smallness” could transform into “big-ness” making my mind wander off into the world of “how can it be” as in wondering how can it turn into this big tree when the seed is so small. I’ve passed that stage already and I now dwell instead more on the area of  “so what good is this big-ness”.

With this questioning stance, the emphasis of the story shifts. Now the focus is not just in the mystery of how “smallness” gets transformed into “big-ness” but on what happens because of that “big-ness”.

This is where the concept of  “provider” gets upped another notch. The mustard seed, the smallest of the seeds that a local Palestinian farmer could have sown by then, grows big enough to provide nesting comfort for birds in the area. It’s something that happens as a result of this “bigness” that has emanated from something so small.

The shift happens in a unique way.

 In the first story, we easily look at “provision” to be like a blessing that is received. And we assign this role to the Great Provider. In the second story, we look at “provision” as a blessing that is given and this is one role that happens when the “seed” of faith that has been planted in us grows “big”. In this sense, those of us who have received blessings become blessings for others.

As to the prayer that “thy kingdom come”, we again are reminded that this will only come to pass when we ourselves shall have become “providers”, blessing others with what I call their “nesting comforts” in their personal lives in the community they live in.

That is the role that often generates some notes of nostalgia whenever we celebrate Father’s Day. We miss those times when our fathers showered us with tokens of their role as “providers” for their families.

I miss my dad’s unique ways of providing us with his version on “nesting comforts”. Just like a typical father, my dad was the assumed breadwinner of the family but in reality, he shared this role with my Mom. They both helped each other provide us with a decent home and an opportunity to pursue studies in good learning institutions.

As a clergyman, my father’s role of being a “provider” leaned more towards providing me and my siblings with good Christian values; shaping me with healthy spiritual formation and developing love and respect for the family.

Looking back to those early formative years, I could truly regard them as my transformation from “smallness” to “big-ness”; forging a growth into something which has enabled me to provide my own family with my own version of “nesting comforts”. I would always pay my deepest respect and admiration to a man who learned from the Great Provider, allowed the seed of faith to germinate in his life and learned to give to others the blessings he received himself. Such was the father I wish I could still greet “Happy Father’s Day”.

Brothers and Sisters in the Lord, the mission field around us is so rich and fertile for the seeds of faith to grow. We could engage ourselves into becoming active participants in planting seeds to that field perhaps beginning in our family circle. Let us continue to fulfill that role of “providers” not so much in terms of material comfort but more in the areas of caring and nurturing of the values we hope to ripen for some good harvesting.

God indeed is the Great Provider and we can do a similar job of continuing his work in the mission field of our choosing.  

So let’s start small and let God, the Great Provider do the rest.  Who knows what we might grow into?

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