Homily Eleventh Sunday Year B God's providence

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Homily Eleventh Sunday Year B

Reading 1: In the first reading the prophet Ezekiel is proclaiming words of comfort to a people in exile. They are shattered. Their former greatness as a nation has been destroyed. They see themselves as nobodies with no leader, no direction, no hope. Ezekiel says in this and all situations God is their hope. God is going to do something new. He will restore them. God will transfer his people from a kingdom of oppression, poverty and misery to a kingdom of justice, prosperity and peace of mind.

 According to the laws of botany, you don’t expect to top off a tender shot from the crest of a great tree and expect it to become a great tree in turn. And yet from the worse scenario Ezekiel says that God is going to bring about a new and mightier kingdom, one that will last forever. This is the future messianic Kingdom which will proclaim the presence, the power and the plan of God. What seems impossible in the limited sight of human beings is possible for God, who is the beginning and end of all good things. The shoot here refers to God’s faithful remnants who remained steadfast in the midst of adversity and who in turn formed the nucleus of Israel after the exile.

It was out of these faithful remnants that God’s Anointed would emerge. The twig is figurative of the future Messiah. Isaiah touched on the same image in referring to the future Messiah when he says a shoot shall rise from the stump of Jesse. This Davidic figure will bring protection and prosperity to the “birds” who live on his branches. And all the other trees around this noble tree will know that the Lord is God because of the figure. Ezekiel is proclaiming a way forward for ancient Israel, a way that preserves some continuity with the old way of life — it is a twig from the top of a current tree. But a way that imagines something new as well. A new location. A new tree. New branches. Where Babylon had brought low its royal captive, God would raise up a mighty tree offering shelter for all kinds of bird and wild animal.

It is God’s direct intervention and initiative that is emphasized. God takes, sets, breaks off, plants, brings low, makes high, dries up, and makes flourish. God controls the action in the whole process. The tree will grow and produce fruit, but even these actions are under the watchful attention of God.

Gospel: Mark gives us two of the many parables of Jesus. Both deal with the fruitfulness of the seed.  In the first parable, even though the farmer scatters the seed on the land, he doesn’t produce the fruit. He can prepare the soil; he can cultivate the plant but its growth comes about by the providential plan of God in the appropriate time. So it will be with the kingdom of God, which is the Church that Jesus initially established with a small group of disciples. In spite of the human dimension of the Church, which at times has hindered its growth, the divine dimension under the guidance of the Holy Spirit has brought fruitfulness over the centuries.

In the second parable, 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.

Jesus teaches something quite radical through these parables. He teaches that God’s Kingdom though begun in dishonor and ignominy, namely his death on the cross as a condemned criminal, will reach its fulfilment in a way that defies human expectations.

 Ezekiel reminds us through the symbol of the shoot that we must learn to not to lose hope in the face of adversity; we must learn to live the fallow time deeply and humbly. Jesus similarly challenges us to work for the coming of the Kingdom even if the desired result is not yet in sight.

Reading 2: Paul reminds us that as members of the Kingdom of God in the present moment, our home is not here, but with the Lord. Because of this mystery and truth, we live now in faith, hope and love, even though we do not see the fullness of the Kingdom yet in our lives. Our faith is in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Our hope is in his promise to be with us always and to bring us into the fullness of his eternal life. Love is to be our way of life, choosing to do all things out of love of Christ. For we know that one day at the end of our earthly existence, God will judge us. What kind of disciples have we been? What have we done to bring forth his kingdom by our words and deeds? How have we embraced his Word? Our eternal salvation will depend on the way we live in the present moment.

James A. Garfield, prior to serving as President of the United States, was president of Hiram College in Ohio. One day a father asked Garfield if there were a short-cut whereby his son could get through college in less than the usual four years. He wanted his son to get on with making money.

The college president gave this reply,

“Of course there is a way; it all depends on what you want your boy to do. When God wants to grow an oak tree, he takes 100 years. When he wants to make a squash, he only takes two months.”

 

What is our vision, what is God’s vision for us? Are we in this journey for the long haul or for the easiest?

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