11th Sunday in Ordinary Time B– June 16, 2024

 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time B – June 16, 2024

Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34

 

Theme: Hope Implies Patience, Faith, and Courage

We all have expectations, and we hope to fulfill them one day. School students hope for good grades and graduations. Parents hope to see their children become people they will be proud of one day. Church members hope to make their Church a better community and place for worship. Christians hope for the kingdom of God (the kingdom of justice, peace, and love) to be established in our societies, families, and wherever we live. The scripture readings for this Sunday deal with expectations and hope. In our first reading, the prophet Ezekiel exhorts his fellow troubled and despairing Israelites to hope for God’s kingdom’s fulfillment as God promised them. The Gospel passage shows that the fulfillment of God’s kingdom we hope for is a slow process, like a seed scattered that grows and we know not how; it also starts very small, like a mustard seed, but later becomes larger. Saint Paul, in the second reading, preaches the message of hope to the believers of Corinth. He calls them always to be courageous and have faith. So, in our journey of hope, we must emphasize patience, faith, and courage.

The Gospel reading for today’s Mass comes from chapter 3 of the Gospel of Mark. This chapter contains a series of four parables. Before the two parables of our Gospel passage, the narrator already told the parable of the Sower (vv. 1-9) with its explanation (vv. 10-20) and the parable of the Lamp (vv. 21-25). Our two parables (Seed Grows of Itself and the Mustard Seed) are immediately followed by the story of Jesus calming a storm at Sea (vv. 35-41), which concludes this chapter. Mark’s purpose in writing these parables was to exhort his audience not to be desperate since they did not perceive the realization of the kingdom of justice, peace, and love as they expected. God’s kingdom is a process, and only God, not humans, controls its development and fulfillment.  

Our Gospel text is a parabolic speech. It has three movements: the parable of the Seed Growing Itself (vv. 26-29), the parable of the Mustard Seed (vv. 30-32), and finally, a concluding note (vv. 33-34).

First, Jesus compares the kingdom of God with the growing seed. The human role is reduced to (1) scattering seed, (2) sleeping, rising, and waiting, and (3) harvesting when the grain is ripe. The kingdom of God is like this whole process: our role as humans is limited to preaching the Word of God, doing good works, preparing our children for a promising future, praying for peace, justice, and love for our societies, etc. How and when the change takes place should not be our concern. It is mysteriously reserved for God alone. The lesson here is that we should keep our patience, faith, and courage to continue doing good even though we do not see the growth and fulfillment of our expectations with our physical eyes.

The second parable is the parable of the mustard seed. Matthew and Luke also tell this parable (Mt 13:31-32; Lk 13: 18-19). In Mark’s version, the kingdom of God is compared to the whole process of the mustard seed: when it is being sowed, its growth, and when it becomes the largest of plants capable of sheltering birds. The focus is on the seed’s transformation from a small size in the beginning to a larger size in the end. The lesson is that we should not expect only the big actions to build God’s kingdom where we live. Small good works we do daily can spring up and become larger one day, capable of transforming our families, Church community, and societies into places where people of God come to dwell. This is what the prophet Ezekiel prophecized for the people of Israel in our first reading.

Ezekiel prophesied about the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian exile. He called the people of Israel to be patient until its fulfillment. He said  that God promised to make Israel stronger again to become “a majestic cedar” where every “small bird will nest under it, all kinds of winged birds will dwell in the shade of its branches.” God will bring Israel, which was “low,” become the “higher tree” and make the Israelites, who were like a “dry tree,” bloom (Ezekiel 17:22-24). Notice the transformation that will take place here (from the “lower level of Israel” to the “higher tree” and from a “dry tree” to the blooming) is similar to the transformation of the mustard seed we heard in our Gospel. Through our “small” good works, God can transform us, our Church, families, and societies become larger and make us bloom. The “small birds” and “kinds of winged birds” in this first reading indicate the universality of God’s kingdom, which Mark mentions in our Gospel. The kingdom of God we build through our “small” good works is not the kingdom for the selected people but for everyone. This transformation may be slow, and we may not realize it with our physical eyes (see our first parable.) The prophet Ezekiel exhorts his fellow citizens and all of us to be patient in waiting for God’s promise to be fulfilled.

Saint Paul also teaches patience, which he associates with courage and faith, to the believers of Corinth in our second reading. His reflection is upon his own suffering as an apostle and what is the reason for his hope. He compares two opposite states of being: the earthly life, “we are at home in the body,” and the heavenly life, “we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.” Paul teaches us that our Christian destiny is being in the body and longing to go home to the Lord. While in the body, Paul exhorts us to do everything possible to please our God. Why? Because each individual will appear before the judgment seat of Christ one day. Despite the suffering of this present life, Paul calls the Corinthians and us to have courage while living in this world and have faith and hope in eternal life. Our determination to continue doing good works with faith and courage, even though we do not see their realization with our physical eyes, shows our hope in eternal life.  

The third part of our Gospel is the concluding note (vv. 33-34). Mark reminds his audience that Jesus regularly taught God’s Word to the people using parables. Neither Jesus nor Mark offered help in interpreting those parables to the people. Mark just commented that the people were able to understand them. Most importantly, he said Jesus explained everything to his own disciples privately. Through this concluding note, Mark tells his audience that they can understand the Word of God on their own. Yet, they need to rely on the interpretation that the  Church gives for better comprehension because Jesus explained “everything in private” to the Church leaders, the “Magisterium” (the Pope and the bishops in communion with him,) who are the successors of the disciples. So, although each Christian can interpret the Scripture, we need to know that “The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church.” (CCC. 100).   

The liturgy of this Mass exhorts us to continue building the kingdom of justice, peace, and love wherever we live without getting discouraged when we do not perceive its realization with our physical eyes as we expect. Only God, not humans, controls its development and fulfillment. All we need is patience, faith, and courage to continue doing good works. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

 

 

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