On Dec. 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, a bus driver told a 42-year-old African-American woman to give up her seat in the “colored section” to a white passenger when the front seats, reserved for whites only, were filled. Those were the days of segregation in the United States.
The woman, Rosa Parks, refused to move from her seat which was rightfully hers. Thus started the Montgomery bus boycott. This and Parks’ act of defiance became crucial moments in the civil rights movement not just in the US but worldwide.
Though revered in later years, Parks initially suffered, getting fired from her job, and, for many years, being harassed and constantly receiving death threats.
The story of Parks is a very concrete and vivid example of Christ’s image of the Kingdom of God in this Sunday’s Gospel—the mustard seed, the smallest of seeds growing into the largest of plants, and the small measure of yeast mixed with flour “until the whole batch was leavened.”
Mahatma Gandhi was a lone voice in South Africa fighting for the independence of his country, India, but became the worldwide symbol of nonviolent civil disobedience.
José Rizal organized fellow students in Europe to help the Philippines, and his martyrdom fueled “the golden age of Filipino heroism” and the revolution that led to independence.
Ignatius started as a solitary pilgrim who gathered seven friends and helped develop one of the largest and most dynamic organizations in the church.
Mother Teresa left the Sisters of Loreto in 1948 to work among the poor of India. Today her mission is continued by some 5,000 sisters of the Missionaries of Charity in 133 countries.
Small beginnings done with integrity. In the words of St. Mother Teresa: “We do little things with great love.”
These stories, and images of the Kingdom of God, are enduring reminders that little things done with integrity will yield great things.
Honest, hard work
Carmela (not her real name) spent years in the California public school system, becoming one of its district trainers. She came back to the Philippines to teach and eventually work with public schools.
Her family of seven siblings is a mustard seed and yeast story. Her father, Antonio, was a jeepney driver, and her mother, Imelda, a full-time homemaker and part-time seamstress. Despite their meager means, great value was placed on education and honest, hard work.
All seven siblings finished college: four in Ateneo de Manila, with one Ph.D and two masters; one in Polytechnic University of the Philippines; one in Mapua Institute of Technology; and one in Philippine Normal University.
Four became teachers, one taught religion and moved on to become a hotel human resources head. They built respectable careers and meaningful lives without getting caught in the so-called rat race.
Few of us will be Gandhis, Rizals, Ignatiuses or Mother Teresas, but we can all aspire to be Antonios and Imeldas whose life of small beginnings lived with integrity—the love for their children together with honest, hard work and faith in education—enabled them to give their children a better life.
In our work with public schools, the growing demand is to help in the values formation of teachers. In any city or province we go to, this is an expressed need, an urgent one.
Identity and integrity
In our formation program, we open with this statement for reflection from “The Courage to Teach” by Parker Palmer: “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.”
Integrity and mission are two peas in a pod. Antonio and Imelda, Gandhi, Rizal, Ignatius, Mother Teresa—their small beginnings were not posturing to be the heroes they are.
Theirs was the love and freedom to stand for values and beliefs, and the willingness to sacrifice even unto death, to give others freedom and the opportunity to make their lives better.
“I came that they may have life and life in abundance.” (John 10:10) The greatest act of love and freedom of the Cross and Resurrection is the definitive testament to this mustard seed and yeast story.
In the midst of the “tyranny of the majority” that undermines core values and basic human respect, mustard seed and yeast stories must inspire us again. In the same way, the spirit of “It is better to light a candle than curse the dark” guided John F. Kennedy’s presidency in the 1960s, and Peter Benenson’s advocacy for human rights when he founded Amnesty International.
It also inspired, in the 1980s, the Filipino spirit’s journey to freedom and democracy that dismantled a dictatorship.
And yes, today’s Gospel also assures us that come judgment day, the weeds will be separated from the wheat, the weeds will be burned. As we say in Filipino, “may hustisya ang Diyos.” —CONTRIBUTED