God Can: The Humble, Hidden and Mysterious Ways of the Lord

User’s Guide to Sunday, June 16

A view of the Vatican Gardens at the Lourdes Grotto of the Vatican Gardens on May 30, 2020, in Vatican City, Vatican.
A view of the Vatican Gardens at the Lourdes Grotto of the Vatican Gardens on May 30, 2020, in Vatican City, Vatican. (photo: Franco Origlia / Getty Images)

Sunday, June 16, is the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass readings: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34.

The readings today speak of God’s providence, which is often displayed in humble, hidden and mysterious ways. While it is true that God sometimes works in overpowering ways, his more common method seems to be using the humble, and even unlikely, things of the created order to accomplish his goals.

In today’s first reading and in the Gospel, we hear how God can take something humble and adapt it to be something mighty and powerful.

The tender shoot of the first reading becomes a mighty oak: “I [the Lord] will take from the crest of the cedar … a tender shoot, and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. … It shall put forth branches and bear fruit and become a majestic cedar” (Ezekiel 17:22-23).

What does this mean for us? God adapts us for his purposes, and no one should say, “I cannot be used.” 

“Awe-ability”: This is the capacity to reverence mystery and to have wonder and awe at what God does. In today’s Gospel, Jesus emphasizes that although a man plants seeds, he does not really know the deeper mysteries of life and growth:

“This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day; and through it all, the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how” (Mark 4:26-27).

We are also rather poor at assessing the effectiveness of our methods. We may come away from a project considering it to have been very effective, and yet little comes of it in the long run. Conversely, sometimes what we consider to have been an ineffective effort may bear great fruit. God works in his own ways, and we do well to remember that he can surprise us.

Some years ago, a friend of mine had on her desk a metal cookie tin with the following saying on its lid: He worketh in strange and mysterious ways, his wonders to perform. Into this box she would place slips of paper on which were written the challenges, struggles and failures of her life. When she reached the limits of her strengths and abilities, she would say, “I can’t, but God can” and into this metal “God can” went the slips of paper, placed there in the hope that God would make a way out of no way. Quite often, he did.

Cultivating a sense of wonder and awe at who God is and how he works not only brings us joy, but it also opens us to hope. It reminds us that God can work in hidden ways to exult what is humble and to bring great transformation to those who are cast down and troubled. It is often in the humblest things that God performs his mightiest works.