Eleventh Sunday of Year B
(Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34)
St. Paul’s words in our second reading today:
WE ARE ALWAYS COURAGEOUS, although we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord
remind me very much of Our Blessed Lord’s words recorded by St. John in his Gospel:
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but BE OF GOOD CHEER, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
Actually the two Greek words translated in the one case by ‘We are always courageous’ and in the other by ‘be of good cheer’ are almost identical and most closely related, so that we should interpret the words attributed to St. Paul by the words of Our Blessed Lord … since very few indeed would be so bumptious as to say of themselves that they were always courageous, for not everyone can be courageous, and certainly none can guarantee such behaviour. However, all can, and St. Paul most certainly would -- with faith and trust in the Lord -- hope and aspire to always ‘be of good cheer’ and ‘take courage’ in whatever adverse situation they might find themselves, for St. Paul truly wants to help us face up to what Jesus Himself explicitly tells us awaits all true believers and faithful disciples:
In the world you will have tribulation.
And indeed, what tribulation there is in our world today! I do not intend to speak of wars and rumours of wars; rather I want to highlight the tribulation in the hearts of so many people -- all of them potentially good -- many of whom, however, are sadly being turned aside from what is good by the turmoil around them seeping into what should be the peaceful inner-temple of their being and making of it a den of clamorous thieves.
In our modern world opinions are changing endlessly and seem, at times, to be endowed with such great powers of attraction or momentum as to bring into question, or even sweep aside, what had previously seemed incontestable, immovable, and inviolable, with the result that many find it extremely difficult to hold on to a constant, firm, and abiding faith.
Again, in our affluent society there is so much, regarded by the world as truly desirable and worthwhile, apparently on offer, but for how long will such things be available when change seems unforeseeable and irresistible? In such circumstances the temptation is great, especially for the young, the needy, and those who are troubled, to seize what is there and on offer before it disappears and is lost without their having tasted it? In such a milieu, how foreign and out of touch does a religion seem which would have us content ourselves with what, ultimately, is only a promise or foretaste for our present earthly appreciation and encouragement of the full satisfaction reserved for our hoped-for heavenly being.
Again, when power and influence can be bought by money; when multitudes are swept along by popular tides of enthusiasm stirred up by preachers of vengeance, purveyors of pleasure, together with the debilitating influence of an increasingly strident media; when rights are proclaimed and responsibilities ignored; when might is right and popularity cannot be challenged; when the would-be are cajoled into a pseudo-holiness without real faith or true commitment or emboldened to display a brash and brassy faith without humility or fear; when, to sum it up, we are surrounded by so many claims and contradictions, so many false options and easy escapes, that many find it extremely difficult to even imagine let alone recognize any supreme authority of enduring permanence or significance for mankind’s salvation.
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace; be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
The joy of peace, the hope of good cheer, the strength of confidence, these are essentials for us today as perhaps never before.
Now our readings today can certainly help us with regard to such essential and basic joy, hope, and confident strength, for St. Paul explains how we are always confident: for the believer walks according to a sure faith, he is confident through faith, that is, he trusts in the Lord and is well-pleased, content, with the proofs the Lord has afforded us and the hope to which He calls us: as St. Paul puts it, with the prospect the Spirit offers us of one day becoming absent from the (earthly) body and present (at home) with the Lord.
We, disciples of Jesus, being endowed with the gift of the Holy Spirit as God’s gracious Gift and pledge of His continuing and abiding love:
Aspire to please Him (Who calls us by His Spirit).
Now, that Christian trust and contentment is pictured in Our Lord’s first parable today:
The kingdom of God is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land, and would sleep and rise night and day, and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come.
The sower does not know how the planting he has made develops to fruition: it takes place whether he himself is waking or sleeping. Notice however, that before God he continues to play his part precisely by waiting for the Lord and trusting in Him, before being ultimately available and prepared to gather in the resultant harvest.
Jesus gave extra-special emphasis to contentment before God in His second parable: no longer are many handfuls of seeds being scattered but just one single mustard seed, the smallest seed of all. The apparent insignificance of the beginning is no hindrance to the final realization of God’s plan: that tiny seed can grow into “the biggest shrub of them all”.
Ezekiel also has words for our guidance and comfort. He told us of the Lord’s dealings with faithless Israel; she had broken the covenant made with God and had received her punishment: banishment from the Promised Land. Only a remnant were left behind in the land once known as Promised and they swore to obey their conquerors. What a fall from the proud kingdom of David and Solomon! Nevertheless, with trust in the Lord Who, as the Psalmist says:
Upholds all who fall and raises up all who are bowed down, (Ps. 145:14)
there could have been a future for them. But, in the event, there was no trust in the Lord: the remnant broke the oath of obedience to their conquerors, just as the whole nation had, before them, broken their covenant with the Lord Himself, and they turned to Egypt for human help. They were not content with the Lord’s provision, they wanted – with the help of Egypt – to win for themselves something apparently bigger and better. It did not turn out as they had planned, and the Lord spoke through Ezekiel the oracle we heard in the first reading:
Thus says the Lord GOD: "I, too, will take from the crest of cedar, from its topmost branches tear off, a tender shoot, and place it on a high and lofty mountain; on the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it. It shall put forth branches and bear fruit, and become a majestic cedar. Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it; every winged thing in the shade of its boughs. And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the LORD, bring low the high tree, lift high the lowly tree, wither up the green tree, and make the withered tree bloom. As I, the LORD, have spoken so will I do."
A beautiful prophecy concerning Our Lord, ‘a tender shoot’ from the crest of the cedar (of Israel): Jesus, Son of Mary and of the House of David. He was planted on the Cross on the Hill of Calvary just outside Jerusalem on the heights of Judah, and He subsequently produced branches and became a splendid cedar as His disciples spread His Word abroad and established His Church throughout the world, that Church in which you and I, People of God, find shelter from the storms of sin and tribulation, and comfort and hope for our souls.
All this was again reflected in the Responsorial Psalm (92:12) where we heard:
The just one shall flourish like the palm tree, like a cedar in Lebanon shall He grow.
Who are these just ones? The Psalmist foresaw the disciples of Jesus, who, in the power of His Spirit would be confident through faith, that is, trusting in their Lord and content, well-pleased, with the hope set before them in the promises He had made to them and which were already being fulfilled in them through the Spirit He had given them; and from a distance of centuries he hails and greets them with these words:
Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him. (Ps 37:3-7)
The world hates you; but be of good cheer I have overcome the world.
How strange that we should be of good cheer though the world hates us! It is a fact that our sophisticated, affluent, proud and self-sufficient, faith-rejecting Western world hates us and the teachings of Jesus we both proudly profess and faithfully proclaim. And it is because of this modern-day hatred that we should indeed be of good cheer because this hatred proves the truth of Jesus’ words and encourages us to recognize that He has indeed overcome the world.
People of God, pray with renewed insistence and solicitude for our world where so many are suffering because they do not hear the truth, because they are being fed with lies and given poison to drink, and let us give heart-felt thanks to God that He has led us into the company of those called and empowered to trust in the Lord at all times, and under all circumstances to be well-pleased and supremely content with the hope His Spirit stirs up within us.