The Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – 13 June 2021
Lectionary Readings: Ezek 17:22-24; Ps 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16; 2 Cor 5:6-10; Mk 4:26-34
Theme: From Small Beginnings
Designated as a “Song for Shabbat,” Psalm 92 is an exuberant celebration of the steadfast love of God, who sustains and enriches the person of faith, symbolized by the palm tree and the cedar that are always green, full of sap, and still producing fruit. That confident perspective reverberates through the other readings of this liturgy as well, in a variety of images, each portraying facets of the mysterious growth of the Kingdom of God among us.
The parables of Mark 4 inject an interlude into the narrative movement of this gospel, which reflects on the transition of the Christian mission, among Jews and Gentiles, beyond the synagogue and the house church. The subsequent narrative will enact the parables of chapter 4 (Bobertz, 43). Mark 4 identifies three of Jesus’ audiences: in our passage, he is addressing not the “huge crowd” of 4:1, but perhaps just “the Twelve together with others who formed his company” as in 4:10; however, 4:34 clearly confirms that Jesus “would not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything to his disciples when they were by themselves.” What more might we glean from Mark’s parables of the seed and the mustard seed, in the light of the Ezekiel and Corinthians passages?
The seeds of Mark’s account reveal amazing capacities for germination in the darkness of the soil, and for transformation into roots, stalks and heads full of grain, the harbinger of harvest time! Perhaps the author chuckled as he described the prowess of the tiny mustard seed that becomes the greatest of all shrubs, yet in fact can barely provide shade for a bird’s nest! Ezekiel features God as a horticulturist shifting our attention to the mighty cedar; however, he focuses on a tender sprig taken from its topmost twigs (vs 22), and planted on the loftiest mountain of Israel though in truth none of them are exceptionally high! There, it will become a noble cedar, accommodating the nests of birds of every kind. If the cedar is the king of Judah, then the trees are the kings of the surrounding nations and they will know that God humbles the mighty and raises up new power from nothing (Boadt, L., in Brown, 318).
Paul plays with the prepositions of a Corinthian slogan which could imply that our bodily existence is an obstacle to union with Christ; his revision is a clear indication of his “incarnational angst,” that is, his sense of distance/exile from the ultimate union with Christ, for which he longs, but that only death can bring. He reinforces that reflection with his conviction that seeking to please the Lord in this life (in body and spirit) shapes our eternal life. That leads Paul to assert that, in his faith, he is “always confident” and “remaining confident,” a distant echo of the exuberance of the Psalmist.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. In the spirit of the Psalm, share an experience or an aspect of your life in which you have known personally the steadfast love of God. 2. How does the growth of seeds speak to you of your own growth in faith?
Bibliography: Bobertz, C. A., The Gospel of Mark: A Liturgical Reading, Baker Academic (Grand Rapids, Michigan: 2016); Brown, R. & al., The New Jerome Biblical Commentary Prentice-Hall (New Jersey, 1990); Levine, A-J. and Brettler, M. Z., The Jewish Annotated New Testament, Second Edition, Oxford University Press (Oxford/New York: 2017).
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Diane Willey, nds, Saskatoon, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna 2005, 2006