Homily Thoughts - Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Our first reading is the 17th Chapter of Ezekiel, begins with “And the word of the Lord came to me and said Son of Man put forth a riddle and speak in a parable to the House of Israel. The whole of Chapter 17 is a great poetic allegory that uses eagles and cedars and vines. It refers to Zedekiah, the last king of Judah before the destruction of the kingdom by Babylon. Zedekiah was installed as puppet king by Nebuchadnezzar II but revolted against Nebuchadnezzar by allying himself with the Pharaoh of Egypt, Hophra. This all ended badly Zedekiah. This poetic allegory is pretty far removed from us it can be hard to get a handle on if you focus on the tradgety. But it’s easier to grasp if you realize that the first reading is at the end of all this and we see that it is not Pharaoh or Nebuchadnezzar that has the last word, it is the Lord God of Israel who rescues and restores. Perhaps a question for us is whether we have substituted our own plans and will in place of God's plans – and has God, had to bring low some of our high trees?
God redeems in a way that often starts with the exalted being made low and the low – the small and seemingly insignificant being chosen and exalted by God. God often chooses to work from the bottom up in a way that defies human reason and, at the same time, invests his own will and plan in our world. Our first reading finishes with the Lord saying, “As I, the LORD, have spoken, so will I do.” God redeems all things.
Our second reading can be restated in a few words “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” If only Zedekiah was willing to walk by faith…This is the lingering question from our first reading; are we willing to walk by faith and not by sight? Our second reading takes us from lofty and poetic Ezekiel to the very pragmatic Paul. It can be easy to get lost in a sort back and forth on a sort of duality of existence “at home in the body and away from the Lord” or “at home with the Lord”? But, this passage doesn't really reflect a belief in the immaterial world over and against the material world so much as itv represents Paul's conviction about what is yet to be compared to what is now visible. Like Paul's depiction of faith in Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. The question Paul has put to us in this second reading is whether we are we willing to act on faith with the understanding this this pleases Christ? Second Corinthians 5:9 is the only place that Paul speaks of pleasing Christ. He is trying to help us see that our present existence offers only a dim reflection of the Lord and our relationship with him. For the time being, that relationship is in the realm of faith, not sight. With the expectation of face-to-face communion with Christ, Paul makes it his goal to please him now with the understanding that, at death, he will see Christ "face to face" – he is talking about a deep personal relationship with Christ in which there is accountability. One great measure of the depth of love is measured by honesty and accountability – if you are married you no doubt have a very utilitarian understanding of this. Are we willing to act out of love of God and in the realm of faith? It comes with a cost - but the cost is material things that set us high and away from kingdom of God.
The Gospel brings us parables about the kingdom of God. In Mark Chapter 4, Jesus gives four parables—the Sower, the Lamp under a Bushel, the Growing Seed – part of our Gospel today - this is the only parable unique to the Gospel of Mark, and the Mustard Seed also part of our Gospel today. Three of the four parables involve seeds and the growth of plants, but each makes its own distinctive point. Jesus specifically labels the third and fourth parables as kingdom parables. Although he speaks the four parables in the presence of the crowds, he explains them only to his disciples. Is Jesus drawing a line between insiders and outsiders and using enigmatic speech that can't be understood from the outside? No, that's not the message for us. The take-home message for us in these parables is not easy. Even Jesus' disciples seemed to miss the point often enough. That's because the parables are not about birds and plants. These parables are challenging us to look at things differently – to engage our imagination. To step outside organized, linear and logical thinking of this world and to wrestle with the demands of the kingdom, the continuing call to conversion, the call to take up the cross and follow Jesus.
How then, can we see? It is through the gift of faith energized by the Holy Spirit that we can actively pursue the revelation of these parables, begin to see the mystery of these parables unfold in our own lives. 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. How many of us have watched watched in wonder at the miracle of our own children. Yes we understand the biology, that's not what I'm talking about. How many of us parents have struggled day and night to be a constant and reliable source of comfort, care, and love, with very little understanding or any real foreknowledge about how things will turn out. Fathers out there, we act in faith and trust in God so that our actions will become the realization of what we hope for even if it is only now evidence of things we do not yet seen. Fathers and grandfathers you are living parables of the sower when you, day by day, act in faith pray that the kingdom of God unfolds in the lives of your children and grandchildren. And then you see little unselfish acts of love spring from the hearts of our children and God makes the kingdom a reality.
The second part of our Gospel reminds us that this is God's plan not ours. Like the first parable, the second parable illustrates the growth of the kingdom from something hidden and minute to something fully visible. Christ, our King came modestly, with no earthly power, and with only a few acknowledging His rule, but history has seen His kingdom expand to include millions the world over.
God plans to grow us in the same way - until He finishes what He started in us. His kingdom will grow generously and abundantly from the smallest of all seeds to the largest of all shrubs. These beautiful word-pictures in Ezekiel and Mark's Gospel envision the day when God's sovereign and life-giving power will embrace each of us fully and the whole world. We are called to participate with God, to be sowers in the kingdom who move in faith to bring the good news to the world. As we prepare for the Eucharist, let us remember that, in Baptism and Confirmation, we became active partakers in this great mystery, and let us trust and believe that the Eucharist will brings us into the very center of the mystery of God's amazing love.