Biblical Readings for each day's Mass,
(as listed in the Liturgical Calendar for Ireland, 2018)

17 June, 2018. 11th Sunday

1st Reading: Ezekiel 17:22-24

It is God who plants and makes fruitful, who raises up and humbles

Thus says the Lord God: I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar; I will set it out. I will break off a tender one from the topmost of its young twigs; I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar. Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind. All the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord. I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the Lord have spoken; I will accomplish it.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 92)

Response: Lord, it is good to give thanks to you

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
  to sing praise to your name, Most High,
to proclaim your kindness at dawn
  and your faithfulness throughout the night. (R./)

The just one shall flourish like the palm tree,
  like a cedar of Lebanon shall he grow.
They that are planted in the house of the Lord
  shall flourish in the courts of our God. (R./)

They shall bear fruit even in old age;
  vigorous and sturdy shall they be,
declaring how just is the Lord,
  my rock, in whom there is no wrong. (R./)

2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:6-10

Paul's boundless confidence in God, in spite of setbacks and opposition

So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord– for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

Gospel: Mark 4:26-34

Jesus ponders the mysterious miracle of growth and fruitfulness

Jesus said to the crowd, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come." He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade." With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.


May our church bear fruit

Spiritual renewal is the gift of God, through the Holy Spirit and through prayer. As Ezekiel—surely a keen gardener himself—puts it graphically, it is God who does the fundamental planting of his people. The sprig from the cedar's lofty top is planted on a high mountain, and for a noble purpose. In our tradition, God's favoured tree is the holy catholic church, called to be a welcoming family, source of both enlightenment and comfort to people of all nations. This tree, of God's own planting, must be there "in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar" providing shade for creatures of all kinds.

Jesus was a great believer in and promoter of renewal, both of his hearers' personal outlook and of the structures and priorities of the Jewish religion. In today's parable, he draws attention to the mysterious miracle of growth and fruitfulness. Yes, of course the gardener must do the initial spadework, and subsequently whatever weeding and watering may be required; but in the end it is the Spirit of God who makes fruitful change happen. So we call on the Pentecostal Spirit to breathe strongly on our Church today, and awaken in all our hearts that loving desire for sharing, for communion, which is the ideal at the heart of each Eucharistic congress, and indeed of every Mass.

When it comes to rediscovering spiritual priorities in our lives, we can find uplift in today's hope-filled words from St. Paul. In the middle of all the turmoil and tension he felt in dealing with dissent in Corinth, he holds on to his confidence in Christ, as his invisible, ever-present friend. Paul can be serene even at the prospect of his own death, when he will be more "at home with the Lord." He then adds a guiding principle valid for each one of us: "Whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him." Without giving up on all hope for collegiality and dialogue in our Church, these are secondary to our basic trust that it is and will remain the Church of Jesus Christ, whose Spirit will stir up whatever is needed to make his Church grow and thrive.

How little things grow

Children are great for asking questions. They ask one question and, having got an answer, they ask another. As children grow into adolescence, they begin to ask more probing questions, wanting some light to be cast on the deeper issues of life. In time, they come to realize that clear answers are not always to be found to life's more profound questions. As adults we often have to reconcile ourselves to living with unanswered questions. We discover that our searching will never exhaust the many mysteries of life. But we continue to take delight in fresh discoveries, while coming to terms with 'not knowing' as an unavoidable fact of life.

Today Jesus speaks about the mystery that is at the heart of the most everyday experiences of life. A farmer scatters seed on the good soil of Galilee. Having done the sowing, all he can do is to go about his other business, while the seed takes over and does its own work, producing first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear, until the crop is ready for harvest. In the parable the farmer does not know how all this happens. Between his actions of sowing the seed and harvesting the crop nature takes over in a way that he does not fully understand. There is a great deal in our world which we do not fully understand, in spite of the great progress over the centuries on all aspects of science.

Jesus begins with the statement, 'This is what the kingdom of God is like.' He seems to mean that if the farmer does not understand how the seed manages to grow, how can any of us fully know the ways of God? If growth in the natural world is mysterious, how much more mysterious must be the growth of God's kingdom? The Jewish book of Qoheleth expressed it well, 'Just as you do not know how the breath comes into the bones in the mother's womb, so you do not know the work of God, who makes everything.' With the parable of the seed growing secretly Jesus says that God is working among us in ways that we do not fully understand, just as the seed planted in the ground grows to harvest in ways the farmer does not understand. There is a reassuring, hopeful message here for any who are tempted to discouragement by the slow progress that the ways of God appear to be making in the world. The spreading of God's reign is ultimately the work of God... and that work is going on even when we do not see it or understand it. We have a part to play in the coming of God's way of doing things among us, just as the farmer has a role to play in the coming of the final harvest. However, that first parable in the gospel warns us against overestimating our role. St Paul expresses this perspective well in his first letter to the Corinthians, 'Neither the one who plants, nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.'

The second parable in today's gospel reminds us that God can be at work in situations and places that seem very unpromising to us. There is a stark contrast between the tiny mustard seed (the smallest of all the seeds), and the large shrub that grows from it, in whose branches the birds of the air can nest. Insignificant beginnings can lead to a wonderful result. The kingdom of God is like that; it often finds expression initially in what is small and seemingly insignificant. We can feel that our own faith is insignificant, as small as a mustard seed. Jesus assures us that the Spirit is working in and through such faith. Our faith can appear as small as a mustard seed; but such hope is enough for the Lord to work with. Our various efforts can seem to bear very insignificant results. The parable assures us that the final harvest from those efforts will be abundant.

We have to learn to be content with the small seeds that we can sow, trusting they will bear fruit in surprising ways. The kingdom of God is being worked out in quiet and humble ways. We need to learn to appreciate little things and small gestures. We may not have to be heroes or martyrs, but we are called to put a little dignity into our own little corner of the world. There are little seeds of the kingdom that all of us can sow, a friendly gesture towards someone in trouble, a welcoming smile for someone who is alone, a sign of closeness for someone in despair, a little ray of joy for a person in distress. God's reign comes in power through the seemingly insignificant actions of each of one us.

Parables using Seeds

There is a curious detail about the parables in this story from St. Mark's Gospel. Much of the public life of Jesus was spent around the sea of Galilee and this fourth chapter of Mark begins by telling us that he was by the sea and the crowd was so big that he got into a boat in order to talk to them all. Yet, all these parables are about seeds and farming. Then we remember that Jesus grew up in Nazareth, an area of farms. It proves again that, in our human nature, first impressions are the strongest and Jesus certainly shared that human nature with us.

This series of parables begins with that long comparison of seed sown in different types of soil but it's not included here. Then we read of the seed growing by itself and finally the small mustard seed. Have you noticed that the parables of Jesus are never about religious events. They are not even told in what we might call religious language. They are about the commonest of events and things we have all observed. But what they also do is make for us an association which we may not have made before. The fact that most of them are so short improves their impact and make them easy to remember. Jesus was a master of the one-line parable. We are told here that he only spoke to them in parables, as far as they were capable of understanding. Parables are good for that. We may not get the point right away but we will remember the story. Then the possibility still exists that at some time later we will get the point, make the association Jesus wanted.

Why so many parables about the kingdom of God? One reason may be that it is a difficult idea to understand. Kingdom means society, community. If you are alone on a desert island, you can proclaim yourself king or queen but what is the use? The primary character of God's kingdom is love and love only exists when relationships exist. In one sense the kingdom of God is the love God has for his creation. In another sense it is the love which that creation has for him and the rest of creation. More than anything else, these parables tell us what the word "God" means. They speak to us of a God who did not create and then turn his back on that creation. This God, like the seed, continues to enliven and grow, be a greater part of what he created, even if we don't know or appreciate how it happens. He chooses not to exist apart from what he created. But we are still left to do the harvesting, or not as the case may be. The harvest will be there even if we ignore it. But if God is defined by the parables Jesus gave us, so are we defined by them. Because this kingdom should be in us, his kingdom gives a fresh definition and character to our humanity.

The kingdom of God is also the key to evaluating other religions and not just other Christian denominations but non-Christian as well. What of all those people who don't hold to any particular religion but still have the highest personal values and ethics in their lives. It would be impossible to grow up in society today and not be imbued with Christian values even if they are not understood as such. Who of us would dare exclude anyone from the kingdom of God? The Vatican II document on the Church, Lumen Gentium, even goes so far as to say; "Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found among them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel."

If you and I were to contribute to the restoration and preservation of a great work of art, we would not only be acknowledging the art work itself but also the artist who produce it, even if we do not know their name. Anyone who acknowledges truth, goodness, beauty, our world and the value of all life is also acknowledging their creator even if they do not have a name for that creator. Where are the boundaries of God's creation? We don't know, somewhere out there in space perhaps? The boundaries of the kingdom of God are just as difficult to define, distinguish and locate. We should not be quick to define its boundaries and exclude anyone. That would be to pass judgement on them and Jesus warned us about that.

Finally, the end result of the kingdom is a harvest. It is, like the mustard tree providing shelter and shade for the weary. This kingdom on earth must affirm and sustain believers, not exclude them. Its branches are open to all. Such harvest, branches and shade are gifts which strengthen faith and love in the community. We must not read these parables as if they were a natural activity we are simply watching. That single seed which produces grain a hundred fold is each of us. The arms of the mustard bush are our arms, yours and mine, spread in welcome to our loved ones, neighbours, strangers, those in need, those who sorrow, even our enemies. These are just some of the things we should think about each time the scriptures speak to us about the kingdom of God. (WJH)

Machtnamh: Conas a fhásann rudaí beaga (How little things grow)

Uaireanta is cosúil go mbíonn torthaí beaga, suaracha ár n-iarrachtaí éagsúla san saol seo. Deimhníonn an parabal dúinn go mbeidh fómhar flúirseach ar na hiarrachtaí sin.. Ní mór dúinn a fhoghlaim bheith sásta leis na síolta beaga is féidir linn a chothú, agus muinín a bheith againn go dtiocfaidh torthaí ar bhealach iontach. Saothar ciúin atá i gceist nuair a luaitear ríocht Dé Ní mór dúinn a díriú ar rudaí beaga agus gothaí beaga a dhearbhú agus a thuiscint. B'fhéidir nach nach bhfuil i ndán dúinn bheith inár laochra nó mártirigh, ach iarrtar orainn dínit a bheith ar fáil in ár gcúinne beag féin den saol. Tá síolta beaga ann den ríocht gur féidir le gach duine againn a chur, mar shampla, bheith cairdiúil le lucht sclúchais is trioblóide, miongháire aoibhnis a roinnt le dhuine atá ina aonar, comhartha caradais a roint le dhuine atá go héadóchasach, beagán áthais a roinnt le daoine atá i gcruachás. Is itrí gníomhartha beaga suaracha a bhunaítear réimeas Dé i gcumhacht.