HOMILY FOR THE ELEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – YEAR B (JUNE 13, 2021)

HOMILY FOR THE ELEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – YEAR B (JUNE 13, 2021)

Ezekiel 17:22–24/ Psalm 92:2–3,13–16/2 Corinthians 5:6–10/Mark 4:26–34

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FR. DANIEL EVBOTOKHAI

DIVINE GROWTH

Jesus preached about the kingdom during the course of his earthly ministry.  Jesus used different images and parables to speak to the people about the kingdom. Today’s gospel presents us with two of such parables: the parable of the growing seed and the parable of the mustard seed. These parables simply illustrate the spiritual growth of a Christian and the growth of God’s kingdom. Similarly, the first reading speaks of the Divine role when it comes to growth. God says “I have made the low tree high”.  God is the basic determinant of growth. We can do all the necessary things but growth comes from the Lord. Paul says in 1 Cor. 3:6 “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” How do seeds grow into big trees? How can we grow spiritually?

From the parable of the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29) we are made to understand that no seed grows without contact with the soil or other possible contacts for growth.  We must plant seeds if we want growth in God’s kingdom. Planting is a basic stage in growth. If we do not plant we can never harvest. Imagine a farmer who ploughs a soil, nurtured and watered it but never actually planted. At harvest he will have nothing to show for his labour.  Beloved, we must plant if we must grow. God’s kingdom grows after the seed has been planted. The seed is the word of God. If we want this kingdom to grow then believers must be planters that is, sharers of God’s word. In the parable, the seed was scattered all over; yet God worked the growth. Believers must spread and share the word of God everywhere. If we want to see God’s kingdom grow in our generation we must share the word of God. Beloved, today speak to a sister or a brother about Jesus Christ.

Again this parable shows that the man scatters the seed on the ground “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how” (Mark 2:27). Often times we don’t see how growth takes place. Seeds grow by God’s might and power. Paul says in 1 Cor. 3:6 “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” Our job is to plant the seeds, God orders the growth. However, if the growth of a seed must be sustained there must be constant nurturing. In the same vein, we must nurture the word of God in our spirit through prayers and reception of the sacraments. If we don’t nurture; our growth shall be stunted.  Therefore, every Christian must make it a point of duty to pray constantly and study the word of God in order to grow spiritually. Again, we must pray for the growth of  God’s kingdom here on earth, that no matter the agenda of the satanic world and other religious bodies the Kingdom should grow mightily and prevail.

 Secondly, we have the parable of the Mustard seed. In this parable we are made to understand that God’s kingdom starts small but grows into the refuge of all. The disciples were just twelve men who shook their world. The kingdom of God today with over one billion believers began with just few persons. In fact Acts of the Apostles gave a little sequence of how the kingdom of God grew in less than two years. In Acts 1:15 believers were about 120, Acts 2:41 they were about 3000 in number; in Acts 4:4 the number increased to 5000; in Acts5:14 great number joined the believers; Acts 6:1 recorded that the disciples were increasing in number and in Acts 6:7 the number increased greatly that they lost count of attendance. Beloved, this generation has its own testimony.  Most churches with large capacities in the world today started with few pews. We must not give up on small beginnings. Like mustard seed; any small seed that is sown will grow big.  Keep believing and keep working on the path of grace. 

In addition, we must not be discouraged. In Luke 12:32 Jesus turned to his disciples and said to them, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” Beloved, there is hope for the little. The second reading today tells us that we walk by faith not by sight. By sight we cannot see growth taking place. But by faith we come to realize that something works on the inside of a plant. By sight what you have may just be too small but by faith it has a bigger future. With five loaves of bread and two fish Jesus fed 5000 men. Jesus did not disregard little beginnings; himself is a product of humble beginning. Therefore, do not give up because of your background.

What we need mostly is faithfulness to little things. This is where many fail. Many people tend to take small things for granted. Jesus says in Luke 16:10 “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much”. According to our Savior, little things can make a significant impact on the big picture. Your riches, prosperity and wealth may hinge on that little gift you are currently underestimating.

Today, many are no longer faithful to the little they have. In fact many young men and women are in hurry to make money. Beloved, there is a natural delay between planting and harvesting. The mustard seed does not become a huge tree overnight. The seed takes time to germinate, develop and grow gradually into a tree. Psalm 37:7 says be patient and wait for the Lord to act. God is the one that gives increase. Surely, he shall give success to the work of our hands. You may begin small but if it is of the Lord, it will grow into a big mall. Bread is flat unless yeast is added to make it rise. The grace of God acts like yeast in each one of us; it causes us to rise and flourish.

Fr Galadima Bitrus (OSA)

THE GOD OF SMALL BEGINNINGS

Today, being the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time B, the biblical readings in our Liturgy help us to reflect on God’s transforming presence among us, infusing little things with genuine greatness, thus, proving himself to be our hope and our friend, especially when the world undervalues us because we are poor, lowly, small, little, fragile and seemingly insignificant.

In the 1st Reading (Ezek 17:22-24), God promises to pluck a young, fragile and tender branch from the extreme top of a cedar and plant it on a tall towering mountain, in the lofty highlands of Israel, and make it grow into a noble cedar, bringing forth big branches under whose shade birds can take shelter (vv.22-23). In this way, God pledges to make all trees know that he the Lord humbles the tall standing tree and exalts the lowly one, he dries up the green tree and makes the withered tree bud (v.24).

This allegory of the cedar branch is understood as depicting Israel’s place among powerful nations that surrounded her. The young, fragile and tender branch from the extreme top of a cedar, as well as the lowly and withered tree, represents Israel. The tall standing and lofty cedar, represents the powerful nations that surrounded and plundered Israel, handing control over her from one powerful nation to another. From these nations, the Lord is pledging to pluck out Israel and make it a tree of its own.

The allegory, therefore, depicts God’s longstanding alliance with, and his preferential option for the poor, the lowly and the persecuted, already shown also in the stories of Cain and Abel, Joseph and his brothers, Israel’s exodus from Egypt, etc. In the prophetic traditions, this standard of God’s alliance with the victim and never with the aggressor is maintained and most clearly formulated in Isaiah 61:1 where the prophetic recipient of God’s spirit and anointing understands his vocation as consisting in proclaiming good news to the poor; binding up the brokenhearted, proclaiming freedom for the captives and liberation to the imprisoned.

In the New Testament, Jesus aligns himself with this prophetic mandate and adopts this prophetic blueprint (cf. Lk 4:18). Also, Mary in the famous Magnificat, classically proclaims this principle of God’s preferential option for the poor when she said: “he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant…he has put forth his arm in strength and has scattered the proud-hearted; he has brought down the powerful from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and has sent the rich away empty; he has helped Israel his servant in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, Abraham and his descendants forever” (Lk 1:46-55).

In the 2nd Reading (2 Cor 5:6-10), Saint Paul expresses confidence in knowing that the Lord is on our side, whether we be in exile (which Paul associates with life in the body) or at home (which he associates with life with the Lord in the hereafter). Indeed, the Lord alone gives value to our little worth. As the Psalmist puts it, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain; unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman keeps vigil in vain” (Ps 127:1). “Because we walk by faith not by sight” (v.7), our smallness and seeming insignificance or powerlessness in the eyes of the world should be the last thing to make us worry, as long as we make it our aim to please the Lord, whether we are at home or away (v.9). As Saint Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans, “If God is for us, who can be against us”? (Rom 8:31b).

In the Gospel (Mk 4:26-34), we read two of the many parables of Jesus about the kingdom of God. In the first parable (4:26-29), the kingdom of God is compared to a sower (not the seed) who sows but has no idea of how the seed he has sown will grow and bear fruit. His job is only to plant and to harvest. Apparently, the kingdom of God here is associated with Jesus himself who came to inaugurate the kingdom and will return at the time of harvest, the time of judgment. In response to a question being asked by the Pharisees regarding when the kingdom of God was coming, Jesus answered, “…the Kingdom of God is among you” (Lk 17:21); then he went ahead to speak of the coming of the Son of Man at the time of judgement, the time of harvest (cf. Lk 17:22-37), the time when “we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (2 Cor 5:10), as we heard in the 2nd Reading.

Jesus planted by going about preaching his word and doing his good deeds, without worrying about how he was going to be accepted or treated; he didn’t worry about how the seed will germinate, grow and bear fruit. He knew fully that God has made the earth with the capacity to “produce of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head” (Mk 4:28). If we have been transformed into Christ, then our very being, life and words will constitute the presence of the kingdom, and as such, we do not need to worry whether and how the world will accept us and grow us, as long as we make it our aim to please the Lord. Our witnessing will certainly bear its fruit in due season.

The second parable focuses on the humble beginning of the kingdom of God, comparing it with a mustard seed which at the moment of sowing, is the smallest seed, but once sown, it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, putting forth large branches which serve as shelter and shade to the birds of the air (Mk 4:30-32). This echoes the words we heard in the 1st reading (Ezek 17:22-24), whereby God promised to pluck a young, fragile and tender branch from the extreme top of a cedar and plant it on a tall towering mountain, in the lofty highlands of Israel, and make it grow into a noble cedar, bringing forth big branches under whose shade birds can take shelter (vv.22-23). Here too, we see God’s predilection for the smallest, the most fragile, the one whom circumstances of the world have placed in the last or no place at all.

The Old Testament, reflecting the wider culture of the ancient Near East, stipulates rights and privileges almost exclusively for the first-born. However, God’s hand in the concrete realization of family histories and destinies, shows more often than not, a reversal of such order, whereby the one whom the logic of circumstances have placed last, becomes elevated in the logic of providence to the lofty circumstance of the chosen or elect of God (see the stories of Cain vs Abel in Gen 4; Esau vs Jacob in Gen 25:19-34; Joseph and his brothers in Gen 37ff. etc.). Jesus captures this new order and logic in the principle, “the last will be first and the first will be last” (Mt 20:16; cf. 19:30; Mk 10:31; Lk 13:30).

Indeed, our God is in the business of transforming small beginnings into great ends, hence, as we do our best in the small things of everyday life, we must learn to invoke God to “transform us by the Spirit’s grace and give value to our little worth” (cf. Liturgy of Hours, Week IV, Afternoon Prayer Hymn, Stanza 1).

Fr. Paul Oredipe

Hope and  Patience:  Trust in God’s Love  

Today’s Gospel reading presents two images of God’s kingdom.  The first speaks of a seed growing on its own as the sower patiently waits.  The second points out how a tiny mustard seed eventually grows into a large bush.  Both images present and underscore the truth that there is more at work in the preaching of God’s word than human effort.  The reign of God is a gift from God and is very much under the control of God Himself.  And so, God’s presence and work may seem insignificant and imperceptible, but are nevertheless very much needed and present.  

To be patient in our day and age, is quite a hurdle to get over with.  Being patient today is like climbing a very high and steep mountain.  We have to do something while waiting.  And so, we start fiddling with our phones, scrolling on the contact lists or reading old text messages.  We do not have the patience to wait eagerly. 

Jesus is telling us that the Kingdom of God is near, meaning it is definitely going to come, or more precisely, it is already in the making.  That is why he said, ‘the Kingdom of God is like a seed.’  A seed needs to be planted, to be nurtured, to be watered in order for it to grow and to bear fruit, a good fruit. 

In a way, this is what the Kingdom of God is like.  It is like a seed given to everyone of us to be planted, to be nurtured and to be cared for so that our prayer for the coming of God’s kingdom will be realized as we always pray in the Lord’s Prayer. 

In our personal way, in our individuality, in our uniqueness, in our talents, skills, abilities and capabilities, God plants in us the seed of His Kingdom.  Our generosity, kindness, humility, goodness, our care for others are just few of the million other seeds of the Kingdom that God has given to each and everyone of us. 

The question is: what are we doing with this seed?  Are we nurturing it?  We also have to remember always, that God does not make this seed grow overnight.  That is why we need to exercise the virtue of patience.  But for many of us, it is like this Kingdom should just come here and now, forgetting that we all, individually have a role to play in the actualization of this Kingdom. 

In fact, as Jesus would say in the gospel today, “The kingdom of God [for many of us] is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how.” (cf. Mark 4:26) 

Jesus is reminding us today the importance of the virtue of patience.  He also reminds us that yes, we have got the seed to be planted and cared for, yet, it does not mean that because it is given to us, it is already completely ours, to the extent that we forget it is God who gives it to us.  In our sleep, or even when we are awake, it is God who tends to it, who watered it, who caused it to sprout.  It is His gift and it is His own doing. 

This was exactly what He was saying through the mouth of the prophet Ezekiel in the first reading.  God says He is going to take a sprig from on top of a very high cedar tree and plant that sprig on the top of a very high mountain.  When it grows big and tall and noble, it will be so big as to be home in the mountains for all kinds of birds.  And I can do this, because I can do anything, says God. (cf. Ezekiel 17:22-24) 

Our Psalm today lends voice to the first reading by calling us to awareness that we are the sprigs which the Lord promised to plant on a very high mountain.  The mountain here means the place of encounter with God.  Wherever Christians find themselves is supposed to be a place of encounter with God.  Not only in the Church “the mountain,” but in Spirit and in truth, as John 4:21 & 23 would tell us: “… believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…  Yet a time is coming and has now come when true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.” 

So, we must flourish even in the family, the Church and the society where God has planted us.  We must “flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a Lebanon cedar…”  We must bear fruits even when we are old and feeble; proclaiming that the Lord is good, upright, in whom there is no wrong. (cf. Ps. 92:12-15) 

Goodness, which we readily attribute to God, makes God real and palpable which in turn deepens our faith that God keeps His promises.  We never feel abandoned and forsaken.  We are consoled that God remains in full control even in our moments of hopelessness and despair, when we see suffering and evil seeming to triumph over good.  

So we have to be like the soil, be patient, making ourselves available and fertile for this seed of the Kingdom to grow in us.  So instead of complaining, let us offer our contribution to the best of our ability in order that this Kingdom of God would be realized and that we are part in the realization of it.  We just have to be patient.  We might complain at times for the hard challenge we have to face and overcome, but if we just be patient, trusting and depending on God all the time while doing the best we can, our patience and disposition to God would be paid off. 

The second parable is about the mustard seed which is very tiny.  You plant this very tiny seed, and surprise – it grows into a large tree, large enough for birds to build nests in and shade themselves.  And the Kingdom of God is just like that, Jesus says. 

So once again, let us remind ourselves that this Kingdom is a process whereby we gradually begin to see God taking back control of everything and the world changing to a place of peace, serenity and love of God and each other. 

We then pray for greater patience and sensitivity in the presence of God though we may not have any clear manifestation of this presence.  There may be much more that we do not clearly see.  We pray that our faith may be strengthened, that goodness will eventually triumph and that the seeds of goodness we sow will somehow bear fruit as promised by our faithful God. 

The world will be a better place if we listen to whom we really are and respond to our intimate name by approaching the Father through the Son with the power of the Holy Spirit. 

 So let us thank God for the seed of the Kingdom, and pray that we would be more patient as wait in ‘joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour’ and for the fulfilment of God’s kingdom.  Amen. 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen 

Fr. Evaristus Okeke

THE LORD GROWS US

“…It is good to give thanks to the Lord” (Ps.92:1a)

We cannot fully comprehend the process of Growth. God who is life himself and has power to give life, is the initiator and sustainer of every growth. No man has ever created anything in the real sense of the word. He can discover things, rearrange them, develop them, but he cannot create them. The first reading beautifully describes how God uses what is small or little in the world to bring about something big. It was as a result of God’s choice of the people of Israel, despite their smallness and insignificance, that salvation was brought to the whole world. Jesus continues the same lesson in the Gospel. In his teaching, he said: “The kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds of the earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, so that the birds of air can make nests in its shade”.

It is in the design of Our Lord to begin humbly. When he began man, it was through a humble personality, Mary; and a humble setting, the Manger. Again, at the commencement of his public ministry, he chose a few men to begin the work of evangelization. They were only twelve in number at the beginning. For the most part, they were humble fishermen, unlettered and less influential men, with evident defects and few material resources. Humanly speaking, it is impossible to explain how these men could have spread the teaching of Christ to the whole world in so short a time, with so many obstacles and so much opposition to overcome. This goes to show that the power behind this growth of the kingdom of God is purely Divine.

We too are like that grain of mustard seed in the task given us by God in this world. Let us not be weighted down by our weaknesses or imperfection to carryout the massive and ever demanding work of evangelization. Instead, let us always resign to the grace of God because the one who has called and sent us will never abandon us. He chose us in the first place and he gave us the apostolic command to go and preach to the whole world. Difficulties will surely come and we will be more aware of our nothingness and littleness. If we wholeheartedly present our “five loaves of bread and two fish” to the Lord, he will surely make out of them, something beyond our imagination.

Our success will therefore depend on the level of trust we have on Jesus, the Master who had promised that he will accompany us to the end of time. Our littleness, when presented to the Lord, becomes raw materials for massive production.

There is power in littleness. Any big thing was once little. Nothing in this world ever came big all of a sudden. The distance between a humble beginning and a robust future may be challenging, but difficulties ought not to discourage us because the Lord is in charge of the growth process. God bless you!

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Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Auchi, Edo State, Nigeria. He was ordained October 20th, 2018. He offers his daily homilies, talks and articles that bother on, faith, theology, morals and many other burning issues in religion and politics. Fr. Daniel writes poems, inspirational quotes and clips.

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