Scripture Readings: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Second Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:21-34
Of late we have been celebrating a number of festive Sundays: Pentecost, Holy Trinity, Corpus Christi, as well as non-Sunday ones, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I like to think of these as “early summer festivals,” even though summer has not officially begun, but warmer weather has, so in my books summer has arrived!
After the festivals, we now return to Sundays in “Ordinary Time,” meaning we are not in a special season such as Advent, Christmastide, Lent or Eastertide, just “ordinary time.” We should keep in mind, though, that no time is really “ordinary,” in any negative or indifferent sense, because God is always at work in our lives and in our world, to draw us closer to God’s Kingdom and to life in Christ.
The Gospel text for this Sunday is a mosaic of independent sayings of Jesus and short parables, all of them meant to shed light and insight to followers of Jesus regarding the coming of the Kingdom or Reign of God. Though these sayings of Jesus may not be eye or ear catching as others of his, their deeper meaning indicates the Kingdom of God will inevitably, by God’s power, be present and eventually understood by all.
With that in mind, the disposition with which we hear God’s word is very important. This is a constant challenge in a world where “being entertained” often takes precedence over experience and learning. Pondering God’s Word, found in Sacred Scripture, and its meaning for one’s life, what we call lectio divina, holy reading, is not always easy, but a loving invitation each from God to listen to God’s Word and put it into practice.
Reflecting on how often in human society the rich become richer and the poor poorer, Jesus insists in his teaching that spiritual insight and generosity are always in short supply, but so much needed for the increase of God’s grace in human lives.
The general reaction of the common people to the teaching of Jesus, often disbelief or puzzlement, is an example of the failure then and now to accept the challenge of the Reign of God in our midst. How shall we hear God’s Word? This is an important challenge to all believers, young and old alike.
The parables of Jesus are to be understood as words of encouragement to the impatient and discouraged followers of Jesus. They are assurance that the work begun by Jesus, preaching about the Kingdom and rising from the dead, is not in vain and will ultimately bear fruit. The disciples of Jesus need to have faith in God and believe that what we pray in the Our Father, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done,” will in fact come to be.
The essence of Christianity is faith that is “activated,” we might say, in love. Faith is dead without works. “Heed what you hear,” Jesus says. His parables, part of today’s Gospel, challenge us to respond to the call of the Lord each day in our “ordinary” life. Insignificant beginnings blossom into something different, yet based in their origin. Our faith is to be like that and our love as well. “We walk by faith, not by sight,” Saint Paul reminds his hearers today, and each of us as well.
In the prophet Ezekiel reading for this Sunday, God is described as taking a tender shoot and planting it on the high mountain of Zion, where it will sprout branches and bear fruit, becoming a majestic cedar. Here is another image of God working in time and with people. It also stresses the importance of patience and not be discouraged by what might appear God’s lack of interest or power. Just the opposite is true if we live by faith and trust in God each and every day.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB