This Sunday we return to the Sundays of Ordinary Time with the Eleventh Sunday. This season is called “Ordinary” because of the fact that we number these Sundays with ordinal numbers (11th, 12th, 13th, etc.) We also return to the Gospel of Mark this Sunday. Most of the Sundays in Ordinary Time in the current “B Cycle” of the Lectionary for Sunday Mass feature this Gospel.
Having said that, I confess that the readings for this Sunday can confuse us. The first reading comes to us from the Prophet Ezekiel and is composed of three verses. Understanding these verses is almost impossible unless one has read the twenty-one verses that precede them. The prophet is addressing the actions of Zedekiah, the king of Israel. Zedekiah has broken faith with the God of Israel by entering into an alliance with Nebuchadnezzar. However, then he broke faith with Nebuchadnezzar and tried to enter into an alliance with the Pharoah of Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar responded by invading Israel and carrying the young and the wealthy Israelites into slavery. Ezekiel uses imagery of eagles and the cedars of this region to describe this political treachery. The three verses that we hear are Ezekiel’s oracle about the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian captivity. God will prevail; human efforts to thwart God’s plan are all in vain.
The second reading comes from the Second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. Some background information might be necessary to understand where St. Paul is coming from. He has been the victim of shipwreck, scourging, and various other physical difficulties both natural and caused by human intervention. Paul’s enemies are using his suffering to discredit him, falling back on the tired argument that God would not treat a genuine apostle in this fashion. Of course Paul knows better and uses the example of Jesus as his defense. He cites the need for courage in the face of persecution and in the face of physical illness. Whether we are “in the body” and “away from the Lord,” in other words – living, or have left the body and gone home to the Lord, we will all one day stand before the judgment seat of the Lord Jesus and will be judged by how we lived despite our sufferings. Again, human judgment is not the measuring stick; God will prevail.
The Gospel of St. Mark for this Sunday presents us with parables. This Gospel doesn’t have nearly as many parables as the Gospels of St. Matthew or St. Mark. The parables for this Sunday speak of the “kingdom” of God. Perhaps a better way to express it would be to use the word “reign” rather than “kingdom.” The word “kingdom” seems to reference a place whereas the word “reign” focuses our attention of the action of God instead. That is precisely what the parables are about. The people of Jesus’ time knew that if they sowed seed, they could expect a harvest. However, they did not understand how those seeds grew into that harvest. Of course, modern agricultural science has taught us how seeds develop into plants. However, the process is still in the hands of God.
I don’t have to preach this weekend. However, because of my Bible Study class and because of my blog, I have still spent time with these readings and have discerned that one way to approach this Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time is to celebrate the action of God in our lives. We all have the choice of either cooperating with God’s work or will in our lives or trying, like Zedekiah, to work our own will. It didn’t work for Zedekiah. Enough said.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator