11TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR B ON JUNE 13, 2021 (R. 1: Ezekiel 17: 22- 24; Psalm 92: 2- 3, 13- 16; R. 2: 2 Corinthians 5: 6- 10; Gospel: Mark 4: 26- 34)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
JUST PLANT THE SEED
The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel is one of the most difficult books to understand in the Bible. Knowing the conditions under which Ezekiel made those prophecies will help us to appreciate why he spoke/wrote the way he did. Ezekiel gave his message under three stages of crisis. The first stage was when Israel was about to be invaded by a foreign government. The second stage was when Israel was invaded and taken to a foreign land (Babylon). The third stage was when the restoration of Israel was close at hand. Because of the crisis, Ezekiel did not enjoy the “luxury” of freedom of speech, so he had to speak/write in coded terms that could only be understood by his target audience, the Israelites, and hidden from their oppressors.
In today’s passage, Ezekiel prophesied that God will take from the topmost branches of the cedar tree and plant it on a high mountain in Israel and that it shall bear branches and birds of every kind shall find shelter under it. In the original context, God had earlier promised King David that his dynasty would last forever. At the time Ezekiel made this prophecy, the last King from the family of David, Jehoiakim had been dethroned and exiled. The Children of Israel were disappointed and could not imagine the fulfilment of the promise of God regarding the dynasty of David. It was to them that Ezekiel prophesied. The cedar tree stood for David. It is true that the family of David has been cut down like a large cedar tree, but since the Lord is the God of promises and fulfilments, since like Paul says in the second reading “We walk by faith and not by sight,” there is no room for giving up, God will take a branch from this tree and plant it on the high mountain of Israel. This is a Messianic prophecy. It found its perfect fulfilment in the coming of Christ. The opening of the Gospel according to Matthew, does a good job in tracing the genealogy of Jesus to King David. Jesus is the new tree and the birds stand for people of all nations who find shelter under the various Christian communities symbolized by the branches.
How does it affect us today? We have different dreams, visions and ambitions about our destinies, tied up to schools, careers, relationships, religion, etc. Sometimes, out of our faults or no fault of ours, we lose the schools, jobs, or relationships, and we are torn apart believing that it is the end of us. Sometimes we make efforts and resolutions to live better lives but shortly after we leave the confessional, we find ourselves back to the same sin and we think of giving up. The prophecy is for us to hold our heads high and wait on the Lord. God’s plans for us are better than our dreams. Each of us is like a book and God is the author. God wants us to keep the book open since he is still writing. Even if the devil comes and adds a period (full-stop) to the most recent word in the book, do not close it; God will come and put a comma under the period (full-stop), thereby changing it to a semi-colon and he will continue the sentence.
The Gospel passage explains this further with the help of the parables about the seeds. The first time Jesus shared this parable, it was for himself and his followers. He was already way into his public ministry but there seemed to be more opposition than followership. The parable was meant to encourage him and his followers to keep planting the good seeds and let God take care of the growth. The seed stands for the word of God. It carries in it an irresistible force. Once it is preached, it penetrates into minds and hearts and it transforms the people who hear it. From that point, the fruits do not depend on the sower, the preacher, but on the energy it has within itself provided by God. At the time Mark wrote down the words of the Gospel, Nero was the Roman Emperor, Christians were part of a minority group in Rome and were persecuted. Mark then reminded them of this parable of the mustard seed that was spoken by Jesus to encourage the Christians that in spite of their humble beginning, in spite of how small and insignificant they were, God would accomplish more than they could dream of. Today, like the mustard seed that grows to become bigger than all other plants, when we think of Rome, it is no longer in terms of the Emperor but in terms of the Vicar of Christ (the Pope) and the followers of Christ.
Sometimes, after preaching a homily, I go back to the presider’s chair wondering if I made any sense at all. But when I remember the parable of the seed and the sower, I tell myself that worrying over what the seed was doing in the congregation is not part of my job description; my job is to sow the seed and the job of the growth is for God to do. As parents, we sometimes get frustrated when we think our children do not listen to our words of wisdom, we get frustrated when we think our spouses are hard-hearted, we contemplate backing off when we think our community members do not appreciate our good works, we prepare to stop bothering people with useful feedbacks when they seem to be resistant. Remember, the seed does not germinate and bear branches and fruits the same day it is planted. If you have any good seed to plant, just plant it; God will take care of the growth. Remember how long it took St. Monica to win back her son, St. Augustine. Never give up on doing the good you can. May God bless the works of our hands, until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through Christ our Lord. Amen.