11th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle B) – June 17, 2018

This Sunday’s Theme: Faith, Hope, and Trust.

The Scripture readings foretell that having faith, hope, and trust in the Lord will help us to successfully navigate through plus help progress His Kingdom on Earth on our way to His Kingdom in Heaven. Parables are used to explain how His Kingdom on Earth began and how it is evolving.

Faith (i.e. obedient belief) is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.
(Hebrews 11:1)
Oh blood and water that gushed forth from the heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us. I
trust in You.
(St. Faustina)

Reading 1 – Ezekiel 17:22–24     A prophecy of faith, hope, and trust that the Lord will restore Israel after the exile.

Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 92:2–3,13–16     Lord, it is good to give thanks to You.

Reading 2 – 2 Corinthians 5:6–10     Believing that “we walk by faith and not by sight” is a profession of faith, hope, and trust in God’s providence

Gospel –  Mark 4:26–34     The evolution of the Kingdom of God is portrayed by the parables of the growing seed and the mustard seed.

Reading 1     Ezekiel 17:22–24                      (The Lord’s Shoot)

Context – Ezekiel was a Hebrew priest and prophet, whose ministry to his fellow exiles in Babylon extended from 593 to 563 BC. He was a contemporary of Jeremiah. As a prophet to exiles, he assured his hearers of the abiding presence of God among them. He constantly emphasized the Lord’s role in the events of the day. He underscored the integrity of the individual and his personal responsibility to God. To a helpless and hopeless people, he brought hope of restoration to homeland and temple by their just and holy God. Ezekiel is referenced more in the Book of Revelation than in any other New Testament writing.
Today’s Reading –  The Jews are in exile and Ezekiel prophecies that God promises to bring a new king from the house of David back into power and restore their homeland. In today’s reading, the tender tree branch cut by God and transplanted by God onto a high mountain is a parable for faith, hope, and trust that God would someday re-establish the Chosen People who were then in process of being deprived of both their freedom and homeland while in exile due to their sins. While this image of “tender shoot” from a Cedar tree might have been under-appreciated in Ezekiel’s day, it clearly came to have inspired importance to later Jews (i.e. a new Davidic King, and a new Jerusalem and Temple would be re-established) and Christians (i.e. Christ our Messiah would be incarnated).

Thus says the Lord GOD: I, too, will take from the crest of the cedar[i], from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot[ii], and plant it on a high and lofty mountain[iii]; on the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it. It shall put forth branches and bear fruit and become a majestic cedar. Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it, every winged thing in the shade of its boughs. And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the LORD, bring low the high tree, lift high the lowly tree, wither up the green tree, and make the withered tree bloom.[iv] As I, the LORD, have spoken, so will I do.

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.          Parables are the substance of today’s scripture texts. The prophets and Jesus taught the crowds mostly by means of parables. Parables were and still are profound tools when teaching and learning about the mysterious. The kingdom of God is mysterious, as is God. Parables are comparisons which always fall short but which successfully convey the mysterious and the profound. They are usually short fictitious stories that illustrate a moral attitude or a religious principle.
Jesus seems to suggest that He uses parables to teach because the meanings of parables are not self-evident. The hearer must engage in some degree of reflection in order to comprehend the message of a parable. Those who are willing to engage themselves in the effort to understand will be rewarded by the discovery of the message. Parables are the theological yeast for intelligent religious reflection.

Responsorial Psalm.     Psalm 92:2–3,13–16                       (Rewards of the Just)

Today’s Psalm – The parable of the tree firmly planted and flourishing connects this Psalm to Reading 1 and the Gospel. Reflection on God’s good acts and His righteous character gives His people (i.e. those who are virtuous – firmly planted and flourishing) faith, hope, and trust as we face life.

R. – Lord, it is good to give thanks to You.
It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praise to Your name, Most High, To proclaim Your kindness at dawn and Your faithfulness throughout the night.
R. – Lord, it is good to give thanks to You.
The just one shall flourish like the palm tree, like a cedar of Lebanon shall he grow. They that are planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God.
R. – Lord, it is good to give thanks to You.
They shall bear fruit even in old age; vigorous and sturdy shall they be, Declaring how just is the LORD, my rock, in whom there is no wrong.
R. – Lord, it is good to give thanks to You.

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.

Reading 2     2 Corinthians 5:6–10                            (Trust in the Lord)

Context – Corinth was the meeting point of many nationalities because the main current of the trade between Asia and western Europe passed through its harbors. Paul started the Church at Corinth in 51 AD and stayed there only briefly to get things started. Five years after the establishment of this Church, trouble arose including: internal divisions, immorality, denials of the Resurrection, and liturgical carelessness. Paul’s pastoral guidance was needed to restore peace and unity by fortifying their commitment to Jesus Christ. Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians takes aim throughout at two vices that underlie the Corinthians’ struggles: pride and selfishness. His second letter to the Corinthians was written to prevent them from falling prey to false prophets.
Today’s Reading –  Saint Paul points us to our future heavenly dwelling which is our ultimate destination and how we are to work to achieve it.
Paul’s confident assurance that “we walk by faith and not by sight” is one of numerous professions of faith, hope, and trust in God’s providence. We do this by embracing the Gospel message and membership in the Gospel fellowship of the Church. Because we walk by faith we must therefore freely choose to do and be good in every way presented to us. We should choose to be truthful, loving, generous, just, and gracious.

Brothers and sisters: We are always courageous, although we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith[v], not by sight. Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.[vi] Therefore, we aspire to please Him, whether we are at home or away. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense (reward), according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.[vii]

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.

Gospel     Mark 4:26–34                                (The Kingdom of God)

Context –  St. Mark’s Gospel was the first written of the Gospels contained in the New Testament. The date of writing was prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. St. Peter was Mark’s primary source of information about the life of Jesus. Mark is primarily known by his Roman name “Mark” but is sometimes called by his Jewish name “John” in other New Testament Writings. He was a cousin to Barnabas and  an associate of St. Paul. Recognizing Jesus as the divine Son of God is the goal of this gospel. And it was written to encourage Christians who were suffering persecution for their faith. It begins with the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.
Today’s Reading –  Today’s Gospel Reading consists of two parables about seeds, they are the growing seeds and the mustard seed, both used to describe how it is with the evolution of the Kingdom of God here on earth.
In the first, Jesus tells those gathered that a man scatters seed which over time sprouts and develops. Then when the grain is ripe, the man harvests his crop. The emphasis in the parable is on the seed, which seemingly has the power to grow on its own. In this it is like the Kingdom of God. While on earth, Jesus planted the seeds of the kingdom by His life, miracles, teaching, and suffering. However, the Kingdom is not yet fully established. Although already present in Jesus and His group of twelve, it has yet to come to fruition; just as the seed in the parable needs time to grow, so does God’s Kingdom. And our job is to help carry on where the disciples left off.
The second parable focuses on the tiny mustard seed. Though not the smallest of all seeds, it is most likely the smallest that a first-century farmer in Jesus’ part of the world would have sown. Small as the mustard seed is, it develops into a tree. Though the mustard tree generally averages only nine to twelve feet in height, it has a wide expanse and provides a nesting place for birds. Just as the tree welcomes the birds, so is God’s Kingdom welcoming and open to many.
Today, the Kingdom of God is present in the Church. The mission of proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom given to the Apostles is now given to us. But just as seeds need time to come to fruition, so does the Kingdom of God. That is why in the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “thy Kingdom come.” By our faith, hope, and trust we know that it will come in its fullness at the end of time.

 Jesus said to the crowds: “This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man (Jesus and His disciples) 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 (God makes “it grow”). Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the grain is ripe, he (The same divine person who sows also reaps.) wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come.”[viii]

He said, “To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed (Jesus’ teachings) that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown (Jesus’ teachings first given to His disciples and from them, to the whole world.), it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
With many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.
Without parables He did not speak to them, but to His own disciples He explained everything in private.

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.

Catechism 546 – Jesus’ invitation to enter His Kingdom comes in the form of parables, a characteristic feature of His teaching. Through His parables He invites humankind to the feast of the Kingdom, but He also asks for a radical choice: to gain the Kingdom, one must give everything. Words are not enough, deeds are required. The parables are like mirrors for humankind: will they be hard soil or good earth for the word? What use have they made of the talents they have received? Jesus and the presence of the Kingdom in this world are secretly at the heart of the parables. One must enter the Kingdom, that is, become a disciple of Christ, in order to “know the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven”. For those who stay “outside”, everything remains enigmatic (unknowable).

[i] Reading 1 Footnotes:
Cedar Trees = represent the Davidic line of Israeli kings.
[ii] “tear off a Tender shoot from the top of the tree” = The tender shoot represents a future king from the house of David.
[iii] “lofty mountain” = Mount Zion, Israel.
[iv] “make the withered tree bloom” = God brings up a new king of the Jews to rescue them from the lowly state of punishment in exile to which Judah has fallen. For us Christians, this is a prophecy of hope, a prophecy of the coming of Christ the Messiah reigning on the earth in righteousness.
[v] Reading 2 Footnotes:
“walk by faith” = CCC 164 & 165 – Now, however, “we walk by faith, not by sight”; we perceive God as “in a mirror, dimly” and only “in part”. Even though enlightened by Him in whom our faith believes, faith is often lived in darkness and can be put to the test. The world we live in often seems very far from the one promised us by faith. Our experiences of evil and suffering, injustice and death, seem to contradict the Good News; they can shake our faith and become a temptation against it.  It is then we must turn to the witnesses of faith: to Abraham, who “in hope. . . believed against hope”; to the Virgin Mary, who, in “her pilgrimage of faith”, walked into the “night of faith” in sharing the darkness of her Son’s suffering and death; and to so many others: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
[vi] “home with the Lord” = When we reach our home in heaven, we will no longer need the light of faith, because God Himself and Jesus the Christ will be our light (Revelation 21:23).
[vii] “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” = CCC 682 – When Jesus comes at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, the glorious Christ will reveal the secret disposition of hearts and will render to each person according to their works, and according to their acceptance or refusal of grace.
[viii] Gospel Footnotes:
The parable of the growing seed = Jesus is telling His disciples about His Church: The preaching of His gospel (the generously scattered seed) will unfailingly yield its fruit, independent of who sows or reaps – it is God who gives the growth. This also refers to the action of grace in each soul: God silently works a transformation in each one of us causing us to make resolutions which shape our soul. We resolve to be faithful, surrender ourselves, respond to grace. Our callings and responses may be different as we are individuals. Even though we must make the decision to become a follower of Christ, it is the Holy Spirit who, working within us, gives a supernatural tone to our thoughts, desires and actions.
[ix] The parable of the mustard seed = The main meaning of this parable has to do with the contrast between the great and the small. The seed of the Kingdom of God on earth is something very tiny to begin with; but it will grow to be a big tree. The seed is planted in Peter and the apostles, has set its roots in Rome, and has grown to be a big tree; one which encompasses the whole world. This growth also occurs in each soul. As predicted in today’s Responsorial Psalm – “The righteous grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” To allow the mercy of God to exalt us, to make us grow, we must make ourselves small, humble. The example of the mustard seed should prevent us from judging the significance of results by the size of the beginnings.