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Ordinary Time 11 (B)
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Readings for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1. Ezekiel 17, 22-24

  • The oracle from the prophet speaks of great forests and the mountain heights of Israel.  And I think of the trees closer to home that fill us all with awe.  How do we explain the majestic forests of the western states?  How much have they seen and survived?
  • I hear of growth, of coming into being, slowly and progressively.  A tender shoot that will put forth branches and bear fruit.
  • This very brief passage sounds like another message I have often heard, that the Lord gives the harvest.  It was first spoken during the exile to Babylonia, a dry country far from the renowned cedars.
  • Another verse reminds me of the valleys that were exalted by God.  I bring low the high tree, lift high the lowly tree.
  • Still another is referred to in today’s Gospel, with the parable of the mustard seed.  Birds of every kind shall dwell under it, in the shade of its boughs.
  • Central theme: God is at work on behalf of the people.  Twice we hear the words I will plant. 
  • Message for our assembly: God makes promises on behalf of his children, and God keeps them.  As I the Lord have spoken, so will I do.
  • I will challenge myself: To slow down my pace and soften my voice today, in imitation of the patient growth of trees, especially the largest forests. 

 

2. II Corinthians 5, 6-10

  • The apostle has some strange words for the church of Corinth, on first hearing.  While we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 
  • Then I remember the teaching that we are a pilgrim church above all.  We walk by faith, not by sight.  Though we are one body in Christ, we have yet to attain to the fullness of Christ in glory. 
  • The apostle uses the word ‘home’ to explain how we really belong to Christ instead of the world where we live and work.  We are at home with the Lord, with him or away from him. 
  • Twice he speaks of the whole church: We continue to be confident. We are full of confidence.  The source of this confidence?  Our knowledge of and faith in Christ. 
  • I hear a strong sensitivity to another realm that is not apparent to others alive in the world.  They go on seeking success here and now.  We have been put on notice: We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.  Our actions, whether good or evil, are measured in the light of eternity.
  • The message for our assembly: We shall be valued not by our earthly monuments but by our imitation of the Lord who emptied himself and left behind no earthly possessions. 
  • Climax: We walk by faith, not by sight.
  • I will challenge myself: To appeal to my listeners’ sense of distances and home.  Many of them have traveled a long time to become part of our church today.

 

Gospel. Mark 4, 26-34

  • I hear Jesus telling two parables about the kingdom of God.  
  • In the first parable, seeds are sown and left alone.  Plants grow we know not how.  I hear a process, from blade to ear to full grain in the ear.  And when the grain is ripe, someone wields the sickle at once.  Who could that be?  I don’t have to understand the parable to build my voice to its climax.  But I must also pray for understanding, for myself as well as the homilist.
  • In the second, Jesus compares the kingdom to a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds on the earth.  My listeners and I have all heard this parable many times because it appears in all the Synoptics.  I can bring out the contrast between the tiny seed and the mature bush into which it grows.  Mustard greens are tough but edible, too, so I think it is a fine comparison.
  • In this passage, as elsewhere, Mark reveals the creative mind of Jesus.  To what shall we compare the kingdom of God?  I can imagine someone asking him to explain this ‘kingdom of God’ about which he always spoke.  And I imagine him answering this way.  As I read it, let me pause for a moment to invite everyone to explore the dynamic truth behind these parables. 
  • The passage ends with this qualifier, explaining why Jesus used parables.  He spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.  That probably includes everyone in our assembly today.  Insofar as the kingdom is a reality beyond our modern scientific understanding, the parables engage our imagination and our prayer.  To his own disciples he explained everything in private.  The lesson I draw is that Jesus never condescended to people.
  • Central theme: The two marvelous images of growth in nature, from seed to full blooming plants. 
  • Message for our assembly: Our life together is a process, time-consuming and filled with growth stages.  We cooperate with the process and God gives the increase. 
  • I will challenge myself: To read with a sense of awe that all of nature reveals the coming of the kingdom if I only open myself to it.

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