A. THE BIBLE as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
B. Reflection & Dialogue: Take courage. The kingdom of God is coming, even if slowly. One must live with the mystery of God.
A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
First Reading (Ezekiel 17:22-24). I make low trees grow. The prophet Ezekiel exercised his ministry during the last days of Jerusalem, before the exile to Babylon (in 597, 586 BC) and somewhat later. He prophesized against the kings and princes in Jerusalem and predicted that they would be exiled to Babylon. Chapter 17, from which the present reading is taken, begins with an allegory on the advent of the king of Babylon to “Lebanon”, a figurative name for Jerusalem, and says that he took the top of the cedar and broke off its young twigs, by which he means the exile of the Davidic king. Ezekiel describes the destruction of Jerusalem. This destruction was done by human agents. God himself is about to reverse all thus. The new twig from the top of the cedar now spoken of indicates the future king of the house of David. He represents the new Israel which the Lord himself will establish on its home soil. It will flourish like a cedar. This will all show God’s might, which brings down the mighty and raises up the lowly. The birds sheltering at the cedar may represent the nations around Israel. The reading, of course, is chosen to go with the parables read in today’s gospel.
Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 91). The just shall flourish like a palm tree
Second Reading (2 Corinthians 5:6-10). Whether we are living in the body or exiled from it, we are intent on pleasing the Lord. The reading of the Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, begun on the seventh Sunday of the Year, continues. A little earlier in this letter Paul spoke of his experience at his conversion on the Damascus road, when the Lord who said “Let light shine out of darkness” shone in his heart, to have him preach the glory of God revealed in the face of Christ. This was Paul’s ministry, which led him to reflect on his own human weakness; he had the treasure in an earthen vessel, to make evident that his success came from God, not from himself. He preached boldly because he believed in the power of the death and the resurrection of Christ. The thought of the weakness of his body increased his belief, his hope and his desire to be with Christ after death. The gift of the Holy Spirit within him was a guarantee of this union with Christ, a guarantee of the transformation of which Christian life on earth is a part. This continues in Paul’s strain of thought in today’s reading. The gift of the Spirit, as a guarantee, fills him with confidence of the eternal glory in store after our bodily existence ends. But, as a Christian and an apostle, what really counts for Paul and of us is that whether alive or dead we do God’s will, are pleasing to God.
Gospel (Mark 4:26-34). It is the smallest of all trees; yet it grows into the biggest shrub of them all. In this reading we have two parables on the growth of the kingdom of God from small beginnings. In both, its beginnings are compared to a seed sown. The sower, of course, is Christ. The first parable speaks of the kingdom growing of itself, automatically, without human intervention. Christian understanding of God’s activity in the spread of the Gospel speaks the Gospel message not as human words, but in reality as the word of God which is at work in believers (see 1 Thessalonians 2:13).
The second parable compares the kingdom of God to a tiny mustard seed. Presented in the parable as the smallest of all seeds, again sown in the ground, it grows into the biggest shrub and shelters the birds of the air. The parable may make a direct reference to the text of Ezekiel (on the promised kingdom of David), of today’s first reading. The parable speaks of the kingdom of God, growing from humble beginnings to become worldwide.
B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day; Have full confidence. The kingdom of God is coming, even if slowly. One must live with the mystery of God. (619)
Many today within the Church are impatient with the slow pace of change. They want things to happen faster, and according to their wishes.
Today’s readings may have a few lessons to teach in this regard. One is that, at best, we are only co-operators with God. God is at work silently; the seed sown by faith can be working away quietly.
Another message that may be of help is that which was central to Paul, so keen on his apostolate to win the world for Christ. The message in question is, that in whatever situation we find ourselves, what is important is that “we please to Lord”, working within the Church and with the Church.
A further message is that we should always be full of confidence, confidence which has the gift of the Holy Spirit within each believer and within the Church as its foundation and its guarantee.
A final message, but far from the least, is recognition of the centrality of the word of God to Christian faith and practice. We often refer to Scripture as the word of God, and people call for more access to this word of God. But, to recall Paul’s words to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 2:13), the word of God is God’s message received in faith and working through grace within each individual believer and in the Church.
All this calls for an atmosphere or prayer and devotion, one in which we can work for true Christian living.
May your kingdom come. May your will be done on earth. Working for the coming of the kingdom. What has been presented in the various parables of the kingdom in the Gospel accounts give only individual aspects of the kingdom, and the presentation of the growth of the kingdom is as a seed growing of itself in the parables of today’s gospel reading is no exception. These parables do not imply that human activity is not required for the coming and the growth of the kingdom. We pray daily to God that his kingdom may come, which for Christian belief as for Judaism implies that his will be done here on earth. Jesus laboured for the coming of the kingdom through his teaching and his miracles, as in other ways. So did the apostle Paul. Necessity was laid on him to preach the Gospel, and the same held true for the Church down through the centuries. The Church herself, and all believers, must do likewise in any age, including our own. The Church authorities must be in contact with the faithful, prepared to answer their questions and to be aware of their anxieties concerning religious matters whether of faith or morals, including points of moral practice. They must make it clear that the concerns of the faithful are being listened to, even when these disagree with Church teaching or her position on certain matters. But at the same time the Church must proclaim the Gospel message in it saving entirety, and enter into the necessary dialogue with a secular society possibly in disagreement with it on certain matters, such as those relating to sexual issues, to marriage and others besides. In issues such as these lay voices can carry greater conviction than those of clerics, although not too many of the laity may be keen on taking on such a task.
But such is the mystery of the kingdom of God, from its beginning to our own day, a seed growing of its own, but still calling for proclamation, promotion and defence.