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.

11th Week of Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II

In yesterday‘s First Reading we saw Joash whisked away from certain death and hidden in the Temple under the priest Jehoiada’s care until he could claim his rightful throne. Today, upon Jehoida’s death, Joash takes council from princes as bad as those who’d denied him his throne, and abandons worship of the very God who’d protected him and saved him. Joash did not learn the lesson of today’s Gospel: God in his Providence takes care of everything, all we need to do is seek his Kingdom and his righteousness and he’ll work out the rest.

Joash was appointed as a steward over the People of God; Judah was God’s Kingdom, and Joash, by abandoning the Lord, tried to usurp that kingdom from the Lord, a foolish proposition by anyone’s estimation. The Lord didn’t give up on him; he sent Jehoiada’s son, the prophet Zechariah, to warn him of his folly. Joash ignored Zechariah and killed him. As a result Joash brought so much misfortune upon Judah that his servants felt obliged to take justice into their own hands and make him pay for murdering Zechariah. In death, he was not acknowledged as a king at all, a complete reverse of fortunes at his own hand.

If we seek the Lord’s Kingdom and righteousness we have nothing to fear. Ask Our Lord to help you see the daily signs of his Providence in order to pursue his interests as your own.

Readings: 2 Chronicles 24:17–25; Psalm 89:4–5, 29–34; Matthew 6:24–34. See also 11th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.

11th Week of Ordinary Time, Thursday, Year II

Today’s First Reading is part of a recap by Sirach of all the great figures in the history of Israel. In the case of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, whom we’ve considered in the First Readings over the last week, the focus is largely on the wondrous deeds they performed, but their also on audacity in proclaiming the Word of God, even when it implied sacrifice and hardship.

Each Christian is called to carry on the mission of the prophets; we may not have as many miracles at our disposal, but we are sustained by grace to boldly communicate God’s Word to all sectors of society, and to reflect that Word in our lives. We don’t just share it with believers, just as the prophets were often sent to the incredulous or lapsed to bring them to the faith. Similarly, we should show great magnanimity in sharing the Word. The Spirit of the Lord worked through the prophets, and the Holy Spirit works through us as well.

Let’s ask the Holy Spirit today to inspire us to share the Word of God with everyone we meet.

Readings: Sirach 48:1–14; Psalm 97:1–7; Matthew 6:7–15. See also 1st Week of Lent, Tuesday and 11th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday.

11th Week of Ordinary Time, Wednesday, Year II

In today’s Gospel Our Lord reminds us that spiritual practices like prayer, fasting, and alms giving are meant for him, not for publicity. He suggests ways to ensure our purity of intention: by donating without fanfare, fasting without letting anyone see you sweat it, and praying without making it a public display. In this way we are showing that those acts of devotion are between us and God, no one else.

Even if we do those acts away from prying eyes we can involve others the right way: by offering up our donations, fasting, and prayers for them and for their intentions. We can also offer them to God simply to thank him for all the blessings he has bestowed on us and others.

Let’s ask Our Lord today to help us pray without ceasing for the benefit of him and others.

Readings: 2 Kings 2:1, 6–14; Psalm 31:20–21, 24; Matthew 6:1–6, 16–18. See also Ash Wednesday and 11th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday.

11th Week of Ordinary Time, Tuesday, Year II

In today’s Gospel Our Lord invites us to strive for perfection in our love. The rain is a good for everyone who receives its benefits, regardless of whether they “deserve” it or not. What if the rain stopped being good? If it became acid rain, it would no longer would be good. Through our charity or lack of charity we can go from rain to acid rain and must persevere in charity even when it feels that we’re getting burned.

The Lord acts in today’s First Reading in regard to King Ahab and his corrupt wife because if the king is not just, there can be no justice in his realm: the “rain” that was meant to benefit everyone in the kingdom and became “acid rain”: a good became evil and had to be stopped. King Ahab eliminated Naboth’s entire bloodline unjustly for the sake of one piece of property. In justice King Ahab’s bloodline must be eliminated for becoming worse than one of the peoples, the Amorites, who occupied the Promised Land before the Israelite’s occupied it. Just as the Amorites were cast out, so Ahab’s bloodline must be cast out.

If we suffer injustice, the Lord will make justice prevail, sooner or later. Let’s have faith in the Lord’s justice and not let the evil of others turn us from being a source of good to a source of iniquity. Charity always prevails in the long run.

Readings: 1 Kings 21:17–29; Psalm 51:3–6b, 11, 16; Matthew 5:43–48. See also 1st Week of Lent, Saturday, 23rd Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, and 11th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday.