Fr. Bryan Howard
11th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 13 June 2021
Our first reading from Ezekiel and our Gospel today are both describing a kingdom using very similar images, but the picture they paint is very different. They talk about small things, a twig and a seed, that grow into great trees that all the birds come to rest in. The trees represent kingdoms, and, since God is the One who makes them grow, we could call it God’s Kingdom, or the Kingdom of God. We often talk and pray about the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven. In the Our Father we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” and the third Luminous Mystery of the Rosary is the proclamation of the kingdom. How can we become good citizens of this kingdom and good subjects of Christ the King? By allowing Him to reign in our lives.
Our first reading is from the end of the 17th chapter of Ezekiel. In this chapter the prophet Ezekiel reminds the people what lead to the fall of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judea. God brought the people into the land, he planted them and made them grow, he established an international kingdom under David and his sons, ruling over the surrounding lands. The vine, Israel, he planted didn’t produce fruit, so God allowed the vine to whither. Meaning that the rulers, priests, and the people didn’t obey god but chose sin, so God allowed the Babylonian Empire to conquer them and bring many of the people, including the king, into exile. The kingdom was conquered, the line of kings broken, and it appeared hopeless.
This is where today’s reading starts. Just when everything appears hopeless, God will take a shoot from the cedar of Lebanon. The cedar is the kingdom and the shoot is the new king, the Son of David. Even though the tree was cut down, God will make it grow again. Even though the kingdom was destroyed, God will restore it. Ezekiel says that birds of many kinds will dwell in it. The kingdom won’t just be a Jewish kingdom, but many nations will be part of the kingdom.
Almost 600 years after Ezekiel gave his prophecy, the people were still waiting. The Babylonian exile had ended and the people returned to the land, but the kingdom was not restored. King Herod claimed to be a descendant of David, but everyone knew that was a lie; he wasn’t even Jewish. Then Jesus comes along calling Himself the Son of David and talking about a kingdom. In the first parable, He says that the seed grows of its own accord. In other words, this isn’t a human kingdom, but a heavenly kingdom, because God is the one who makes it grow. Unlike the first kingdom, this one will yield fruit for God; the fruit is faith, good works, and growth in holiness.
In the second parable, He says that the kingdom starts off very small, like a mustard seed, or like the tender shoot that Ezekiel talks about. It’s not impressive at all. This is the Church. The Church often doesn’t look very impressive. We want the Church to be like the cedar of Lebanon, a great, majestic tree but it usually looks more like a mustard tree, and I want everyone to go look up a picture of a cedar and a mustard tree to see what I’m talking about. However, even though it doesn’t look like much, it still spreads out its branches to give shelter to all the birds of the sky.
It’s like an upside down iceberg. Most of the iceberg is underwater, with just a little piece sticking up. The Kingdom of God is a heavenly kingdom, most of it is in heaven, but a little piece of it is down here on earth, and that piece is the Church. God gives life to the Church, but we still need to bear good fruit. We need to spread the Good News, be peacemakers, share God’s love and mercy, have a special love for the poor, and work for justice in the world. We can make a real difference in the lives of other people by bringing them to God, and by bringing God to them. God can work on His own, but He normally chooses to work through us. He wants us to cooperate in His plan.
One more thing. Did anyone notice what kind of fruit those seeds are producing? He says, “Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” This is a wheat plant, which of course becomes bread. Do you think it’s a coincidence that we use wheat bread for the Eucharist? God’s Church produces the fruit of the Eucharist. We receive the Eucharist, so that we can go and bear the fruit of faith and charity in the world. Don’t become discouraged when the Church looks more like a mustard tree than a majestic cedar. God is with us, and the Prince of Peace is establishing a Kingdom of Peace that we don’t have to wait for, if we do His will: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.