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Sunday 13 June
Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time; Year B
Ezekiel 17: 22-4 Ps 91 (92) II Corinthians 5: 6-10 Mark 4: 26-34
All of the readings we’ve just heard contain wonderful instances of the Biblical picture-language that portrays with such beauty the challenges involved as well as the blessings bestowed in God’s relationships with His chosen people. The series of pictures – from the prophet Ezekiel, from the psalter, and from St Paul – culminates in Our Lord’s own vision of the Father’s Kingdom, represented in two vivid images from the natural world:- the fertile field that can produce such an abundant harvest; and the tiny mustard seed that grows remarkably quickly into a tall plant to attract all the birds, when the natural conditions are favourable.
The birds of the air have been given a special place by Biblical commentators who’ve suggested they represent all the nations of the world, attracted to the message of Jesus by the good news of the Gospel. In the background to Ezekiel’s quite similar prophecy, the news is not so good: the Jews are in captivity in Babylon and the commentators have been able to identify the stunted trees of the prophecy with the lives of the last kings of Judah – Jehoiachin and Zedekiah, both of whom died sadly in their exile as kings without a kingdom. Even so, and whatever their exile, their fortunes were varied enough to align them with the green trees as well as with the withered ones – whether they were ‘stunted’ or ‘tall’ in their different opportunities and attainments. Ezekiel’s prophecy, in fact, is most essentially a message of hope relating to the greatness of our human potential under the providence of God.
In Jesus Christ, we recognise the realisation of that potential – to such an extent that ‘we are always full of confidence’ (says St Paul the Apostle). In today’s second reading, the Old Testament theme of the Exile is taken several stages further as St Paul gives us such a keen sense of ‘belonging to God’ through faith in Jesus Christ – even if the circumstances of our lives (‘the body’, as St Paul puts it) are such as to exile us from the reality of God’s Kingdom. St Paul also speaks of being exiled from the body through faith – a powerful evocation of the experience of prayer, in which even our illnesses and sufferings may be transfigured into signs of hope to be shared with others. When we ‘walk by faith and not by sight’, St Paul says, we are indeed ‘full of confidence’.
This is the message of a man who had an encounter with the risen Jesus and received a wonderful gift for expressing the Christian message – a message for all humanity, like the mustard tree for all the birds of the air.
Those two parables of our Lord, in St Mark’s Gospel, speak of a fertile land producing crops ‘of its own accord’, and of a prodigious growth of the mustard plant ‘once it is sown’. The harvest parable does mention the activities of sowing and reaping – tasks that are given to us human beings, men, women and children, as stewards of God’s creation. When the psalmist speaks of God’s people as being themselves ‘planted in the house of the Lord’, we are compelled to recognise the extent to which we ourselves are called to share in God’s gracious work for the world in which we live. This involves us in cultivating our faith, building our communities and thus showing the fruits of our human gratitude for all the gifts we’re enabled to receive through faith in Jesus.
As we return in increasing numbers to celebrate Mass together after the trials of the past year, we also acknowledge what today’s Offertory Prayer calls the ‘twofold needs’ of our humanity – our natural appetites … and our hunger for God’s grace. Let’s hope that the two may always exist harmoniously within our hearts and minds, and that our lives may unfold in accordance with their true potential, as Jesus would have it, in the glory he invites us, ultimately, to share within the Father’s Kingdom.
Fr Martin Gowman
Parish Priest; St Benet’s Beccles
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