11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Today’s readings remind us that the Kingdom of God has already been sown by Our Lord and continues to grow with us or without us, because it grows due to God’s power, just like nature does. It can grow in and through us too if we cultivate it in our hearts.

In today’s First Reading Ezekiel describes the Messiah as a tender shoot taken off the main tree—the royal stock of David. The Messiah will be established on the heights but will also grow to be tall and sheltering for all those who can reach those heights. Other kings and their lines will look upon the Messiah’s prosperity and realize that it is the Lord who blesses them or lets their lineage fade away, fruitless. Many “birds” will find shelter in this tree, but they must fly very high.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that the way we use this dying mortal body will determine what it grows into in eternity. Our mortal bodies grow old and die whether we are good or evil, but our eternal life depends on what we do with our earthly life. The seed of eternal life is sown in us through Baptism. We can nurture it and water it with the grace of a holy life, or we can neglect it and focus so much on pleasing a dying earthly body that our eternal life is at risk. Our Lord wants our earthly life to flourish and blossom into something wonderful. We truly grow to the degree that we work with Our Lord’s grace in us.

When Our Lord begins his public ministry the core of his message is that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and conversion and faith in the Gospel are needed. In today’s Gospel he gives us two parables to understand what the Kingdom of God is: the sowing and reaping of grain and the growth of a mustard seed. By teaching in parables he is trying to explain deeper spiritual realities using the everyday realities understood by his listeners.

The Kingdom of God reflects this profundity: it is reflected in the Church and her work, but it also the whole work of salvation, of God conquering hearts, one by one, throughout the centuries, until his reign of love endures forever in the hearts of those who welcomed it. The example of the grain shows us that this requires cultivation, waiting for the right time to reap the spiritual harvest of our labors, but also that God does the heavy lifting. The growth that is quiet, slow, and unseen, at times even when we’re not doing anything, comes from him and from his grace working in our souls and in the souls of others.

The example of the mustard seed shows that it starts small: in Jesus’ earthly ministry it went from him, to twelve disciples, then to thousands by the time narrated in the Acts of the Apostles, and to the whole world and throughout history. The Kingdom doesn’t just represent something small that has an incredible capacity for growth and expansion; like the cool shade of the mustard plant it makes room for everyone to find rest and consolation, because God wants everyone to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Today’s Gospel reminds us that Our Lord gave more explanations in private to the disciples: deeper spiritual realities are understood more fully through parables and explanations, but since they ultimately refer back to the deepest mystery–God–they’re never completely fathomable. If a mustard seed, wheat, or cedar can help us fathom the mysteries of God, what other everyday things that we take for granted have the same power? Spend some time this week admiring nature and asking yourself, “what does this creation teach me about its Creator?”

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