25th Sunday in
September 18, 2016 11:00am
Matthew Parish, Baltimore
The Weight of a Snowflake
There’s a story that once upon a time, a field mouse asked a wise old owl: “What is the weight of a snowflake?”
The owl answered: “Nothing! Nothing at all!” Well, the mouse went on to tell the owl about the time he was resting on the branch of a fir tree.
It was snowing and he was counting each snowflake until the number was exactly 3,471,952. Then, with the landing of the very next flake – c-r-a-c-k!
The branch of the fir tree snapped and the mouse tumbled to the ground. The mouse looked at the owl and said: “Humph! So that’s the weight of nothing?
Little Things Have Effects
That anecdote highlights one of the lessons in today’s gospel.
Jesus says: “If people are trustworthy in little things, they will also be trustworthy in greater things. But if people are dishonest in little things, they will also be dishonest in greater things.”
The point is that everything we do has significance. Sometimes we think that some of our actions are not all that important – that they count for nothing, like a snowflake that seems to weigh nothing.
But the truth is that everything we do has an effect. It has an effect 1) on our own moral character and 2) on the character of others.
Effects on Us
Jesus says that we develop character by beginning with the little things.
A priest friend of mine tells a story about his first pastor. That pastor would always fold money in half three times when people handed him donations for the parish.
He did that to make sure he did not mix it with his own personal money. That is a good example of developing character by beginning with small matters.
Jesus suggests that we need to work at those little flaws: like telling so-called fibs or little lies that we think will not hurt anyone; or like taking home pens or coffee or other supplies from where we work. If we start dealing with these “little” signs of spiritual failure, then we will grow in character.
One minister said: “Integrity does not emerge full blown in us. It is built of thousands of little acts and decisions over many years that form our lasting character.”
Effects on Others
Then, the anecdote about the snowflake also conveys that our actions will have an effect on others, especially our children and grandchildren and youth.
Some years ago there was a cheating scam at one of our major universities. A number of students were expelled.
A newspaper reporter studied the situation and wrote an article about why these young adults might have cheated on their exams. The reporter wrote that it might have been a 6-year old hearing his father tell someone who was interested in buying his old car that it had never been in an accident, when in truth, it had been rear-ended several years before.
Or a 10-year old might have heard his parents talk about not including on their income tax report some money they had made on the side. Or a teenager at her first job in a supermarket might have been told to hide the over-ripe strawberries on the bottom of the box.
The newspaper reporter said that experiences like these could lead children and youth to develop an attitude about cheating on an exam. These “little” actions by adults begin to form the character of young people.
So, eventually one more snowflake, that apparently weighs nothing, cracks the branch of the tree.
And the same thing can happen to us. Eventually, one more “little” action that disregards moral norms can have a decisive and negative influence on character.
On the other hand, an accumulation of “little” things that are done from a sound moral basis will positively mold character and prepare us and others for life’s bigger issues. As Jesus says: “If people are trustworthy in little things, they will also be trustworthy in greater ones.”