Love, the Greatest of All Shrubs

Love, the Greatest of All Shrubs

“yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs…” Mk 4:32

There was a Catholic nun in Sullivan County, NY who worked tirelessly to help at risk youth discover new life. She was sweet, soft spoken, and gentle. I often felt like the young people she worked with were changed simply by being in her presence.

She once brought a group of teens to our camp for a weekend retreat. As soon as the group arrived, Sister Mary excused herself to go to the bathroom. A few minutes later, I heard her scream. When she opened the bathroom door, we saw that she was covered in toilet foulness. It turned out that when she flushed the toilet it’s contents exploded up out of the bowl. It was not a pretty sight.

The maintenance director and I spent the next 3 hours digging up a sewer line. We discovered that long ago it had been broken but was not properly repaired. The poor repair job allowed roots to grow in between the sections of unattached pipe. Eventually, the roots blocked the line which prevented water from escaping to the septic system. The sewer water had nowhere else to go but back to its source. No one knew about it until poor Sister Mary flushed the toilet.

Historically, the parable of the mustard seed has been dressed up into a comfortable image. The kingdom of God is an all encompassing tree where all birds find a place to rest. Except, a mustard tree is an invasive weed whose root system consumes gardens. Out of sight, no one sees the impact of these roots until someone starts to dig them up.

Most of us adore the beauty of compassion, mercy, love and forgiveness. Yet, when it comes to living into these qualities, we discover it’s a messy adventure. Sister Mary encompassed all of these attributes. However, I guarantee you that evening at camp was not the first time she was dumped on in her ministry. She persisted in the messy work of love because she had experienced the power of God in it. As did the children she served.

When we neglect to live compassionately and mercifully, love rapidly gets replaced by hatred and suspicion. Eventually, the consequences of this kind of living confront us. Then we are forced to dig up the broken pieces, poorly repaired, and try to mend them anew.

The kingdom of God happens whether you see it or not. It grows whether you believe in it or not. Yet, to those who invite it in, who decide to live into its truth, it becomes the power of God to restore all things. It restores all things because God’s love is invasive, persistent and has an enduring ability to create new life. Truly, it is the greatest of all shrubs.

Click to read: Mark 4: 23-26 


Reflections Questions:

  • When have you found love a difficult thing to give?
  • When was a time you found yourself confronted by your own lack of compassion?
  • How do you mend broken a relationship with someone who does not think or act like you?
  • How is God’s love invasive, persistent and enduring in your life?


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