How the Kingdom of God grows – Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

The just one shall flourish like the palm tree, like a cedar of Lebanon shall he grow.

Central idea and Doctrine: The Kingdom of God grows by hearing the Word. Practical application: Hear the Word better.

To view Lectionary 92 click here.

Central Idea: The Kingdom of God grows by hearing the Word

Reading 1 Ez 17:22-24

Thus says the Lord GOD:
I, too, will take from the crest of the cedar,
from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot,
and plant 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.

  • In this reading, Ezekiel might well have been thinking of the restoration of tiny Israel, God’s chosen Son, that nation that God promised would give a universal blessing to all the nations.
  • We Catholics see Ezekiel’s parable fulfilled in the establishment of the Church, in her growth throughout the world, and in her inexhaustible fruitfulness in doing good.
  • In Ezekiel’s parable, as in Christ’s Parable of the Mustard Seed, all human beings in all cultures and in all ages can find a home.

Responsorial Psalm 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16

R. 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.

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.

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.

  • It is not just the Church herself that is like a healthy and fruitful tree. So is each person who cooperates with God’s grace. And this is true in every stage of human life, even in old age.
  • The one requirement is that each person be just, that is, render to each person, beginning with God, what he or she owes. The psalm especially highlights the gratitude we owe to our Creator.

Reading 2 2 Cor 5:6-10

Brothers and sisters:
We are always courageous,
although 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.
Yet we are courageous,
and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.
Therefore, we aspire to please him,
whether we are at home or away.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,
so that each may receive recompense,
according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.

  • Paul writes of the virtues of faith and courage.
  • I think by walking by faith Paul means all three of the theological virtues: assent to Divine Revelation (faith), trust that God will keep his promises to us (hope), and sacrificial love (charity).
  • I think by courage, he means all four cardinal virtues, the natural virtues necessary for our actions in this life to be pleasing to God: sound decision-making (prudence), giving everyone what we owe them (justice), toughness in the face of pain and courage in the face of fear (fortitude), and self-control toward pleasurable things (temperance).
  • Perhaps Paul highlights courage because people will hate us for being good, because we are giving up many apparent goods to attain God’s promises, because Christ will judge according to how much we have cooperated with His grace, and because we must pass through death to attain eternal life.

Gospel Mk 4:26-34

Jesus said to the crowds:
“This is how it is with the kingdom of God;
it 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.”

He said,
“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
With many such parables
he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.
Without parables he did not speak to them,
but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.

  • In the parable of the grain, the farmer only makes two contributions. At the beginning, he scatters the seed on the ground. Then, “when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once.” The wheat has its own life, independent of the farmer. The seed sprouts and grows, the farmer “knows not how,” and on its own, “the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.”
    • One interpretation of this parable is that farmer refers to any disciple of Christ who does apostolate, that is, who in some way attracts another to the Catholic faith. First, he announces Christ to others by explicit words or by the example of a good life. Then God’s grace works in the other, bringing him or her to conversion. The work of grace happens independently of the apostle, just the farmer “knows not now” the wheat grows.
    • A second interpretation of the parable is what happens inside each person who is converted, including each one of us. The life of Christ develops and grows, transforming the person inside and outside. The “grain is ripe” when Christ’s work of transformation in us is complete and we are ready for eternal life.
    • A third interpretation, one which also fits the parable of the mustard seed, applies to how the Church grows through time and over geographical space. When the Church began, we might say there was only one person in it: Christ himself, or three: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Then, when Christ’s public life began, the apostles and disciples were added. Then, after Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension, the Apostles and apostolic men began proclaiming the faith through the power of the Holy Spirit “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samar’ia and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). More and more persons in more and more places “can dwell in its shade.” This marvelous growth is certainly not complete yet.

Doctrine: The Kingdom grows by hearing the Word

  • Christ’s parables about the wheat and the mustard seed teach that Christ’s Kingdom grows by us hearing “the Word.”
  • The “Word” grows in each one of us by this “hearing,” and thus it grows in the world to the extent that it grows in us.
  • But what is this “Word” we are supposed to hear? The Word is a rich reality.
    • First, it includes everything God reveals about himself and us by means of our rational understanding of creation, that is, of natural things.
    • Second, and going deeper, the “Word” means everything God has revealed through Divine Revelation, both through Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. The Sacred Scriptures are that part of Divine Revelation that has been recorded by the sacred writers through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. These are readily accessible words of “the Word.”
    • But third, and most profoundly, behind both natural and supernatural revelation stands the actual “Word of God,” the Incarnate Person of Jesus Christ.
    • So, above all, the Kingdom of God grows by each of us hearing Christ.
  • What remains is the term “hearing.” How do we actually hear what Christ has to say? In a word, hearing the Word means listening to it prayerfully.
  • Listening prayerfully to what Christ has to say to us means listening humbly, gratefully, hungrily, obediently, intelligently, conversationally, responsefully.
  • Given this background, let’s look at what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about hearing the word:

The Church “forcefully and specially exhorts all the Christian faithful . . . to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ’ (Phil 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. . . . Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that a dialogue takes place between God and man. For ‘we speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read the divine oracles.’” (CCC 2653)

The spiritual writers, paraphrasing Matthew 7:7, summarize in this way the dispositions of the heart nourished by the word of God in prayer. “Seek in reading and you will find in meditating; knock in mental prayer and it will be opened to you by contemplation.” (CCC 2654)

Practical application: Hear the Word better

  • When it comes to hearing what Christ has to say, we have the sources mentioned above: the natural world, Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and above all the Person of Christ himself.
  • In attempting to capture the meaning of hearing the Word a little more completely, I listed the following adverbs: humbly, gratefully, hungrily, obediently, intelligently, conversationally, responsefully. Why these?
    • Humbly, because it is God speaking to us.
    • Gratefully, because it is a treasure for us.
    • Hungrily, because we ought to long for this communication.
    • Obediently, because it reveals God’s will for us.
    • Intelligently, because God has given us our rational nature and we should use our intellects in meeting him.
    • Conversationally, because the prayer which accompanies our reading of the Sacred text can be a dialogue with God.
    • Responsefully, because God has given us a free will by which we can do what God wants, with the help of His grace.

The Homiletic Directory recommends the following Catechism points and themes for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time:

  • CCC 543-546: announcing the Kingdom of God
  • CCC 2653-2654, 2660, 2716: the Kingdom grows by hearing the Word
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