Bulletin: June 13, 2021
Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s scriptures connect the towering cedars of Lebanon from the prophet Ezekiel to the mustard plant of the famous parable of Jesus. Both plants represent the Kingdom of God. Both are also to be understood as symbols of the Church, where “birds of every kind shall dwell” (Ezekiel 17:23) and shelter in the cedar’s branches, and the shade of the mustard plant’s large branches provide dwelling for the “birds of the sky.” Even today’s psalm tells of the just one who is like a cedar flourishing in the house of the Lord.
Now, the Church is not the Kingdom, but rather a sacrament, a visible sign of it. They co-exist in the here-and-now but also in the “not yet.” As Paul reminds us, we must constantly work to continue building and growing the Kingdom by everyday good works of “the just one.” So we are all birds and just ones.
“LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THE KINGDOM OF GOD . . .”
The Gospel of Mark is nothing if not a testament to the power of parables to illustrate the Good News through story. Jesus was a master storyteller, who understood the importance of using images and concepts to which his listeners could relate. A seed, a mustard plant, would symbolize one of Mark’s signature focuses: the Kingdom of God.
Centuries earlier, the prophet Ezekiel proclaimed most poetically to the Israelites, recently liberated from Babylonian captivity, that their God was still their hope, their comfort, their rescue, and their shelter. Those refugees would understand the image of the towering cedar as a symbol of their kingdom, cut down, fallen, captured. By restoring their kingdom, their God was giving them a new creation (the replanted shoot) and a new covenant.
THY KINGDOM COME . . .
Ezekiel said that God would tear off “a tender shoot” (17:22) for this replanting. What does this sound like? Why, Advent, of course, and specifically the words of the prophet Isaiah: “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom” (Isaiah 11:1); and again in Isaiah’s Messianic texts we hear: “He grew up before us like a tender shoot” (53:2). Jesse was the father of the great king David and, as we know, Jesus came to be that tender shoot, that blossom, the new Davidic King whose throne, the cross, was once a tree.
God’s incarnation in Jesus, born fully human, is the fulfillment of the promise to Ezekiel of the renewed and restored cedar, the new Kingdom. That new creation and covenant exists for us in the Church, through the Holy Spirit making the seed planted within us grow, flourish, and spread. Thus we have the faith and courage to be that visible sign of the Kingdom bringing hope and renewal to the world. We must live Kingdom lives before we can convince others to do so.