A Reflection by Fr. Kingsley for the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B).
Ezekiel 17:22-24 – 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 – Mark 4:26-34.
At this time of year, we see the miracle of growth happening all around us in trees and shrubs, flowers and crops. The miracle of seeds sprouting and buds forming goes on unseen for quite a while before becoming visible to us. Words cannot capture the magnificence of the scene as nature blossoms forth in all her beauty. Moreover, it is a fascinating and reassuring sign that harvest time will be approaching in due course, that there will be crops of fruit and grain to sustain us. We don’t have to be gardeners or farmers in order to appreciate that growth is a gradual process that takes place quietly through God’s sovereign action (cf. 1Cor 3:6). It begins in the seed planted in the earth, and ultimately produces fruit. The results vary for a number of reasons.
The readings today are concerned with understanding this natural growth vis-à-vis our spiritual growth.
In the 1st reading, God described through the Prophet Ezekiel how He would take from the crest of the cedar a tender shoot and plant it on the high mountain of Israel, where it would grow and become a noble cedar to shelter every bird, and from which the other trees would learn about the Lord. That metaphor was revealing what was going to happen for the people of Israel, and why they needed to be patient as God accomplished His work in their midst.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus gave us two parables about seed and growth. Actually, in that same chapter there are three parables, all of which are about seed and growth.
The 1st parable (the parable of the sower) tells about a farmer who strewed seed at random on the land. Some seeds landed in good soil and some landed in bad soil. Only the seed in the good soil bore fruit (vv. 1-9). The 2nd parable, which we read today, tells how a seed grows beneath the soil without the farmer knowing how (cf. Ac 12:10). It’s a mystery to him. The 3rd parable, which we also read today, contrasts the tiny seed with the large and beautiful plant that grows from it. Each of these parables gives us insight into the nature of God’s Kingdom.
We learn from these readings that we need grace in our hearts for growth, and that we need God because He knows where best to sow seed to make it productive. Remember, we are not talking about physical seed, but about the spiritual seed of the Kingdom of God. God’s Kingdom grows because He is sovereign and Jesus is Lord; nonetheless, the Kingdom can grow and burgeon only in human hearts and wills that are open to Him. It can grow in the heart in a marvellous, mysterious way, without our knowing how, but the final result will only be seen at the end, at harvest time when the sickle is put in (Mk 4:29).
Sometimes, we tend to think of the seed of God’s Kingdom as being only the word of God sown in us, but today I want you to look at yourself as that seed. Today’s message is for you: God Himself is taking you and setting you – like a sprig of cedar (v.22) – in a high and glorious position where you are to grow, deep-rooted in Him, in full view of everyone else. What He is going to accomplish in you is something mysterious, beyond your understanding and indeed beyond human understanding: He is going to turn your little efforts into something great in the end. What is required of you is trust in God, patience, doing your full part in daily living and waiting on His word to be actualized in you. Remember that He works in mysterious ways.
Take the example of the growth of Chinese bamboo. A bamboo tree takes five years to grow. Every day after it has been planted, it has to be watered and fertilized. It doesn’t break the surface for five years. After five years, however, once it has broken through the ground, it grows 90 feet tall in only five weeks! If, at any time during those long years, the farmer were to stop watering and fertilizing it, the bamboo would die. The lesson for us here is that our spiritual lives are like the bamboo growing underground. God works patiently in us, and we have to be patient as He cultivates His Kingdom within us. Just as the farmer cultivates the bamboo patiently for years, so we should have patience as God’s grace and power work in us until we bear fruit.
The 2nd reading is about aspiring to please God (v.9) while we are alive, even though we cannot see Him. God’s goodness and God’s blessings are always active in our lives, even when we are not actively aware of them. They become apparent when something significant happens in life, don’t they! Rejoice in Him at every opportunity and determine to serve God in others for love of Him. Like a cutting that grows into a mighty cedar, or a tiny mustard seed (brassica nigra) that grows into a shrub several metres tall, you and your witness to God will be impossible for others to ignore. Because you have been planted by God and nurtured by Him in the Church, you should shelter all those who fly to you, and share the Good News of God’s glory with them. So shall you be fruitful, the glory of God at work in you shall be known, and the coming of God’s Kingdom shall be closer. Trust in God, let God work in you, and be patient as you grow. Amen. God bless you.