11th. Sunday of Year (B)
(Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2nd. Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34)
St. Paul, speaking 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,
reminds me very much of our Blessed Lord Jesus’ words recorded by St. John in his Gospel (16:33)
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.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 very closely related, so we do well to understand the dictum of St. Paul in accordance with those words of Jesus, because Paul was a truly sublime disciple of his Lord, and no man of his personal discipline and life-commitment to the proclamation of, and witness to, Jesus as Lord and Saviour, could have been so bumptious as to say of himself that he – as a mere man -- was ‘always courageous’. However, St. Paul most certainly did on many occasions – more indeed than any of the other apostles -- suffer for Jesus with very great courage, because of his faith and trust in the Lord Who had urged him to ‘be of good cheer’ in whatever adverse situation he might find himself, and that faith and trust, that being of good cheer, is most certainly what Paul wanted to teach and encourage in his converts who were called to daily face up to the pagan power of Rome and give witness to the Lord Jesus as true and faithful disciples: In the world you will have tribulation.
What tribulation there is to be found in our world today! I will not 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, but far too many of whom are sadly being turned aside from ‘being of good cheer in Jesus’ by the turmoil and despair of evil all around them. Today, change is continual and seems to have ever greater momentum, sweeping aside what had previously seemed established and inviolable, and as a result many find it extremely difficult to hold on to a constant, firm, and abiding faith. Moreover, in our affluent Western society there is so much the world considers desirable and worthwhile presently on offer to us; and yet, there is no telling how long it will be available, because change approaches almost unnoticeably before suddenly manifesting itself as well-nigh irresistible. In such circumstances the temptation is great -- especially for the young and the needy -- to grasp, seize, what is on offer here and now before it disappears, before it is lost, without their having tasted of it. And how alien such a worldly set-up finds, portrays, and decries, our Christian religion and Catholic faith which advise and encourage us to aspire to, and learn to be supremely content with, what seem -- for those unable to recognise or appreciate spiritual blessings – to be only promised nothings here on earth!
Dear People of God, when power and influence can be, and frequently are, bought by money; when multitudes are swept along by popular tides of mindless enthusiasm stirred up by preachers of vengeance, purveyors of pleasure, and the debilitating influence of an increasingly prurient media; when rights are proclaimed and responsibilities ignored; when might is right and popularity cannot be challenged; when people are cajoled and led astray by preachers of holiness-without-commitment and emboldened by addicts of faith-without-fear-of-God; WHEN, to sum it up, we are surrounded by so many claims, counter-claims, blatant lies and hidden contradictions, that disciples find it difficult to recognize the soul-calming supreme authority of the unseen, but all-seeing and all-powerful, God Who created us, and hard to accept the teaching proclaimed by our historic Lord and Saviour claiming both ultimate veracity and an unfailing power to transform all who embrace it into disciples reborn and chosen out of this world, for what is eternal and beatifying; THEN, in such situations, how immensely important it is for us to hear and take heart from the concordant voices of our Lord Jesus and His most faithful disciple St. Paul:
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace; be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
We are always courageous, although we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.
The believer, Paul went on to say, is confident by reason of his faith; he trusts in the Lord and is well-pleased, content, with the hope to which he looks forward; in all circumstances, the disciple seeks to please the Lord he serves and loves:
We walk by faith not by sight, and we aspire to please Him before (Whose) judgement seat we must all appear.
Now, that Christian trust and contentment is pictured in Our Lord’s first parable today:
The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because 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. He continues to play his part, however, by waiting for the Lord and trusting in Him, before ultimately reaping the resultant harvest.
Dear People of God, too few supposed sowers-of-God’ seed, too few preachers of Jesus’ Gospel, seem to know how to wait for the Lord and trust in His word! Too many, high and lowly, want to adapt Catholic traditional, centuries-long and original, teaching to ‘modern’ people who apparently find themselves in situations never experienced before and both unknown to, and unforeseen by, Our Lord.
Jesus gives special emphasis to trust in and contentment before God in His second parable: there, He no longer speaks of many handfuls of seeds being scattered, but of 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 all.
Ezekiel told us of the Lord’s historic 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 was left behind in the land and they swore to obey their conquerors. What a fall from the proud kingdom of David and Solomon!
And yet, with trust in the Lord Who, as the Psalmist (145:14) says:
Upholds all who fall and raises up all who are bowed down,
there could still be a future!
But there was no longer any trust in the Lord; the remnant broke their oath of obedience to their conquerors, just as the whole nation had broken its covenant with the Lord Himself, and they turned to Egypt for human help. They were not content with the Lord’s promised future provision, they wanted to win for themselves – with the help of Egypt – something immediate, here and now, something hopefully 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 pluck from the crest of the cedar the highest branch. From the top a tender shoot I will break off and transplant on a high, lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it. It shall put forth branches and bear fruit and become a majestic cedar. Every small bird will nest under it and all kinds of winged birds will dwell in the shade of its branches; every tree of the field shall know that I am the LORD. I bring low the high tree, lift high the low tree, wither up the green tree, and make the dry tree bloom. As I, the LORD, have spoken so will I do."
This was reflected once again in today’s Responsorial Psalm where we heard:
The just one shall flourish like the palm tree, like a cedar of Lebanon He shall grow.
Who then are those just and righteous’ ones? The Psalmist foresaw the disciples of Jesus who would be confident through faith: trusting in their Lord and well-pleased with the hope set before them in the promises He had made to them, promises already being fulfilled in them through the Spirit bestowed upon them ‘as a first instalment’; and from a great distance he greeted 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. (Psalm 37:3-7)
The world may hate you; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world!
How strange that one should be of good cheer though the world hates us! It is a fact that our sophisticated, affluent, proud and self-sufficient, Western world has long –secretly at first but now quite openly and indeed blatantly -- hated the teachings we proclaim. For the present, it is content to mock and deride us personally, but such mockery and derision quickly turned to hatred for our Lord Jesus Himself, hatred so intense that only His crucifixion would satisfy them or sate it.
And yet, it is because of the modern-day hatred we experience that we should indeed be of good cheer as St. Paul exhorts us, because such hatred proves both the truth of the words of Jesus, and the fact that He has indeed overcome the world Whose Spirit is still at work in us today drawing us along the Gospel way of Truth and Life:
For this reason, we too give thanks to God unceasingly, that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe. (1 Thess. 2:13)
That nascent belief, being fostered and nurtured by the Holy Spirit at work within us in the name of Jesus, opens up for us a prospect immeasurably preferable to that which the world offers us: first of all, moral confusion where there is no divine right or wrong, no natural or unnatural, only human legal prescriptions and personal options; then, satiety for some and despairing hunger for many; and ultimately for all, a wordless – unintelligible – void instead of spiritual fulfilment: a void, a spiritual black hole, which growing numbers of both rich and poor, celebrated and unknown, cannot face up to, cannot live with, and therefore they make their own final and most personal option, suicide.
People of God, let us today 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 for such, indeed, is the teaching of this worlds leaders and authorities, such indeed are many of the examples portrayed and extolled on every hand! And let us thank God that He has brought us into the company of those called and empowered to trust in Our Lord at all times, and under all circumstances to be well-pleased, supremely confident and content with the hope His Spirit stirs up within us.
St. John tells us that Jesus -- before He left this world to go back to His Father -- was most desirous of protecting His disciples, and so He solemnly forewarned them:
If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. 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. (15:19-20 & 16:33)