14 June 2015: Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Ez 17: 22-24 Ps 92: 2-3, 13-14, 15-16 2 Cor 5: 6-10 Mk 4: 26-34

 

Seeds, bushes, trees, and the hidden, mysterious kingdom

This week the liturgical season returns to Ordinary time, the part of the liturgical year outside of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter. We count these Sundays by ordinal numbers, and the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all believing community members with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. In Ordinary time, the first reading and gospel reading carry the theme for the week. The second reading is usually a continuing reading from Paul’s letters. This week Jesus tells parables about how God will reign the world.

The first reading is from the prophet Ezekiel, who comforts the Hebrew people during their exile in Babylon. In an earlier passage (Ez 17:1-21) before today’s reading, Ezekiel uses the image of a tree to describe the Hebrew people’s rejection of God, and their defeat and exile in Babylon. In today’s reading God promises to restore David’s line (“tree”) when the Hebrews return to the promised land (“on the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it”). God tells the people that this new Davidic king will not simply restore Israel’s pre-exile glory, but will create a true messianic kingdom for all nations (“birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it”).

Mark’s gospel presents Jesus telling two parables about God’s kingdom. A parable is a story with a twist that makes a single point. In the first parable, God’s kingdom is like a seed that a farmer plants. Days and weeks pass, and the hidden seed grows mysteriously–not by the farmer’s efforts, but by God. Jesus tells us the kingdom is already here, hidden but growing. In the second parable, God’s kingdom is like a mustard seed. The mustard seed starts small but grows into a large bush, large enough to shelter many birds. Jesus tells us the kingdom has small beginnings in each disciple, but will grow to include all nations (see God’s promise about the messianic kingdom in the first reading).

In today’s second reading Paul is thinking about what happens to those who die before Jesus returns (the parousia, or Second Coming). As humans, we live in physical bodies (“are at home”) that separate us from the risen, glorified Christ. In physical bodies, we know the risen Christ only by faith, since Jesus no longer has a body we can see. Faith tells us that when we die (“leave our bodies”) we will see and be with the resurrected Christ. While we remain in physical bodies, we should live as Jesus lived (“aspire to please him”) so that when we meet the glorified Jesus (“appear before the judgement seat”), he will recognize us as his disciples (“receive recompense”).

Today’s readings remind us that the kingdom isn’t a place, but a time when God rules the world. Ezekiel proclaims God’s promise to create a messianic kingdom; Jesus fulfills this promise when he teaches about the kingdom, which he inaugurated through his death and resurrection. Even though God grows the kingdom in hidden and mysterious ways, Paul reminds us that we participate and cooperate in bringing forth the kingdom through our faithful discipleship. Are we growing the kingdom? Is our faith growing in the kingdom? Are we open to the mystery?

—Terence Sherlock

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