11th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME(B) June 17, 2018
Ezekiel 17: 22-24; Psalm 92; 2 Corinthians 5: 6-10; Mark 4: 26-34
by Jude Siciliano, OP
PRE-NOTE: Welcome to the latest email recipients of "First Impressions," those who participated in the retreat directed by the Dominican Laity of Raleigh, NC
The Gospel has two parables in it and caution flags must be
raised for the preacher. We need to remember what parables are not,
before we begin interpreting them. The first tendency we have when
we read a parable is to make it into an allegory; so for example, we
try to figure what the "seed" represents, what the "ground" is and
who the farmer might be. Parables are not allegories even though
sometimes in the Scriptures a parable is "explained" later by
Christ. Such moments
are the exception. When Jesus "explains" the parable, it is probably a case of the Gospel writer adding a later interpretation suited for his own community and its particular needs.
Mostly, the parables are not explained in the gospels because they are stories. Frequently they are introduced, as today's is, with Jesus', "This is how it is with the reign of God." In other words, Jesus is trying to describe for us what it's like when God is in control of things, or what it's like when people are living under God's rule. That's what the parables hold for us today, a way of seeing our lives through another lens, through the lens of the parable. We have our own ways of measuring our lives, we have standards of "success" influenced by our environment, upbringing and education. But these ways of seeing might even be in opposition to the way Jesus would have us look at life and his rule. The parables reveal Jesus' perspective and his followers need to give them a listening.
Another approach, or tendency, we have when we read parables, is to moralize them, i.e., to see them as instructions for how we should behave. A better way to think of them, is as descriptions of how God behaves and that they offer clues for how and where to find God in our lives. Chapter 4, from which these parables were taken, begins with a huge crowd gathering to hear Jesus. The crowd is so large that Jesus gets into a boat to speak to them in parables and says to them, "Listen carefully to this." (4:3) That's the disposition we need today, to "listen carefully to this."
The chapter opening tells us that Jesus spoke these parables to a large crowd. The end of today's section says he kept explaining things to his disciples privately. Jesus' offer was to anyone who had ears to hear; but not everyone got his message--- in fact, it seems that only a few did. The parables demand a great deal from us who listen, most basically, they require an attachment to Jesus and an ability to trust his words and wisdom, despite immediate appearances. In other words, to understand the parables requires a previous tie to Jesus through faith in him.
To those who really heard him: Jesus seems to be saying, in these two
parables, that the great enterprise of God, has begun in Jesus – but in small,
almost imperceptible ways. These two parables are called "transitional
parables," i.e., something new is happening, and the old is passing away. God is
entering the world. God's reign is breaking in. What kind force will it have
with its arrival? We, Jesus' early followers and the audience of the gospel
writers, might want a forceful beginning, a rapid overthrow of the world's
powers – immediate signs of
progress and triumph. All this would be very satisfying to us, after all, we who like to watch sporting events frequently ask, if we are late, "Who's winning?" As a nation, we pride ourselves on being winners. Our citizens demand that when we act as a nation we get things done – quickly and expediently. We want the evil powers of the world overcome and are less patient with prolonged engagement. We don't like complex processes that take time – like peacemaking.
We expect God, who is more powerful than any other power on earth, to also be "efficient." Certainly God has it within God's power to get things done. What's taking God so long? Why do we have to put up with so much, for so long? Why aren't we seeing big results in the world and in our personal lives? Jesus is addressing these questions and doubts in story form through these parables.
The first parable – the farmer who scatters seed and goes off – suggests that the beginnings of God's reign seem small and insignificant, like seed spread on the ground. Notice that the farmer does a minimum amount of labor, he scatters seed and then forgets about it till harvest time. Anyone who has planted even a backyard garden knows that's not how a crop gets to grow to harvest. It takes a lot of work from us throughout the process to get fruits from the earth. But that's not how this parable is told by the Teller of parables. This parable would frustrate
workaholics like us and it is one we need to hear. There are plenty of bible passages about how much we have to do; but at least here is one that tells us there is another element at work in the reign of God and it is a life force that will reach fruition, even when we don't seem to have done enough to bring it about.
This is a consoling parable when we look at the results of our efforts and wonder, "Just how effective am I?" This parable balances the tendency in us to measure our efforts and look for proportionate results. It seems to promise that, despite our efforts, failures and successes, there will be a harvest – it doesn't all depend on us. The first parable has no doubt in it. We can trust that, while we are "scattering seed," there is set in motion an ineluctable force that will come to fruition.
Today is our Sabbath. The day has ancient roots in the Jewish faith: a day when all labors ceased, the Word of God was listened to and God was praised. Maybe we need to acknowledge the Divine's interest in our good works and efforts. Maybe this Eucharist, at least, might be a celebration of Sabbath rest. It could be our chance to renew our faith that God is part of our efforts, and in fact is in charge of them. We are not in charge. We know that because we get a parable about seed growing with minimal human involvement – except to scatter and later to reap a harvest. It's good to know it isn't all in our control; it's good to know another force is present, causing growth and invested in the results.
If you want to focus on the mustard seed parable: the preacher might invite hearers to call to mind those people who planted seeds in our lives that caused surprising results. They might be those who spoke words at a crucial time in our lives; those who, by their example, were models throughout our lives; those who taught us in school and got us excited about a subject or vocation; those who taught us to pray, or have faith, etc. These examples certainly are our own parables of the mustard seed, a small planting, a few words or gestures, that had an abundant harvest for us.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061718.cfm
|I add my
prayers to the warning given you about going on too long in your
sermons. We see from experience that such wordiness hinders their
good effect and serves only to try the patience of the listeners,
whereas a short moving talk is often followed by good results.
---from the writings of St. Vincent de Paul
JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD
It shall put forth branches and bear fruit, and become a majestic cedar.
Ezekiel 17: 23
The use of nature as symbols for God’s action is often used in scripture to describe how the Kingdom of God works. The Hebrew language does not have words to express abstract concepts so objects from nature are chosen for particular characteristics to convey abstract ideas. The tall, majestic cedar is hard, close grained, and takes a high polish. It is full of resin which preserves it from rot and worms. Its oil was used as a preservative for parchments and garments. The cedar has been revered for its spiritual significance for thousands of years and thought to be an entrance to higher realms. Its wood was used in construction of temples and burned in cleansing ceremonies for purification. Cedar trees are everywhere mentioned with admiration in the Old Testament. Solomon made cedar the first of trees for the new temple (1 Kings 5:19-20). They are in particular God's trees (Psalm 104:16). In today’s Psalm 92, the cedar symbolizes how God’s just one will grow.
In building the Kingdom, God invites us to participate in divine action to care for creation. In his newest book, They Will Inherit the Earth (Orbis, 2018), John Dear writes, "Jesus respected Mother Earth and pondered her mysteries as indigenous peoples have always done--to find hidden clues about the will of God. His peaceful, respectful, loving attitude toward the earth, her creatures, and all human beings sets the norm for human life and the way out of our madness. . .we need to return to that same kind of nonviolent living and respect for one another, the earth, and all her creatures. In Jesus, we find our way out, our way forward, our way to peace." Pope Francis’ historic encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, is a plea for humanity to wake up to the environmental damage we are doing and to become responsible stewards for future generations.
John Dear also give guidelines for living in solidarity with Mother Earth that begins with grieving "for suffering humanity and suffering creation." The more mindful we become of this suffering "the more nonviolent and compassionate we will become, and the more empowered we will be to take public action for justice and peace" (121).
Will you become like the majestic cedar, "vigorous and sturdy" and "bear fruit even in old age" (Psalm 92:15)?
Join Care for Creation Ministry firstname.lastname@example.org
---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
Director of Social Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
[Jesus said: "The kingdom of God is like...]
... a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground
is the smallest of all seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants...."
We call to mind people who planted seeds in our lives that had surprising results. They might have been our teachers who got us excited about a subject or vocation, which lasted and grew throughout our lives. They are our own parables of the mustard seed, a small planting, a few words or gestures, that have produced much fruit.
So we ask ourselves:
POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES
"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."---Pope Francis
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty:http://www.pfadp.org/
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4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.
Thank you and blessings on your preaching,
fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.
St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas
3150 Vince Hagan Drive
Irving, Texas 75062-4736