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11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 17, 2012 (Ezekiel 17:22-24, 39-40; 2 Cor.

5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34) If there is not a direct link between the Ezekiel reading and the Gospel there is probably an indirect one, in particular the idea of a shelter for birds of every kind. The passage refers to the promise the Lord God makes to Israel to restore its fortunes and status as the Lords own people after the exile in Babylonia ends. The Lord will turn the top of a cedar tree into a mighty fortress back in Jerusalem on the mountain heights of Israel. The cedar was aromatic and strong and was a frequently used symbol for strength in the Old Testament, as it is here. The cedar was an allegory for the king whom the Lord will place over Judah. Just as David once reigned as king, strong and powerful, so will the Lords future king reign because of the Lords action. I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do it. The birds of every kind dwelling beneath the protection the Lords cedar may hint at the universalism that was expected briefly during the period of II Isaiah. And the new cedar planted on the high and lofty mountain represents the hopes for a new king of Judah who will reign head and shoulders above all other surrounding kings. Historically, Israel never saw such a king arise again. With the Babylonian exile, the kingdom effectively ended. In the Gospel we have two parables, one of which is the unique to Mark (the seed growing secretly) and one which is also found in Matthew and Luke (the mustard seed). Both of them are kingdom parables, which means they are used to describe some aspect of the Kingdom of God that Jesus had begun announcing from the beginning of his public mystery. I have found over the years that people with no prior knowledge of the teaching of Jesus struggle with Mark, until they get to these parables in chapter 4 and then it is as if scales fall from their eyes and they see clearly for the first time what it is all about. I have seen that verified repeatedly over the years and have always been fascinated when it happens. Here the kingdom is like a man scattering seed which falls into the ground and begins to grow. Its always one of those fascinating discoveries kids make in school whenever they plant things and they grow while they are sleeping. Growth has always been an interesting thing to study. It appears that Jesus was just as fascinated by it and used the process to describe the kingdom he was preaching. It grows almost imperceptibly but surely, just like seed that has found the soil. Others think the proper focus of the parable is on the seed which is sown, interpreting the seed as the word which Jesus plants in receptive hearts. Still others focus on the judgment that comes when the harvest is ready, insisting that judgment is part of the kingdoms announcement.

The second parable describes how the kingdom, like the mustard seed, starts out small but grows into a large shrub, which becomes a shelter for all the birds of the sky. In its context and together with the first parable, it becomes clear that the kingdoms growth is certain. Without knowing how, the small seed grows into something large. So it is with the kingdom. What Jesus thought the kingdom was going to be is hard to say. It would certainly not have a political agenda, nor was the kingdom about power, other than Gods power over Gods creation. It was about service to the needy and the poor and the naked and hungry. It still is.

Fr. Lawrence Hummer