Eleventh Sunday: The Power of the Gospel

St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

EZ 17:22-24; PS 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16; 2 COR 5:6-10; MK 4:26-34

At last we return to Ordinary Time and our orderly reading through Mark’s Gospel.  Appropriately, this week’s readings give us a straightforward account of the power of clinging to the Gospel.

The Gospel reading is direct.  The Kingdom of God is compared to seed sown, “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.”  And then again it is compared to a mustard seed: “once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants.”

The point is simple and profound: the power of Christ is beyond our imagining.  We see something small and weak; we tend, sometimes, to diminish our faith, and look for salvation from something stronger.  But what appears to us like nothing has the power to “put forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade” – far beyond what we can accomplish.

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Now, we can say “Gospel” in two ways: we can mean the message itself, or the books that contain it.  In both senses, the Gospel is powerful.  When the message is planted in us, when we receive it with faith, it grows up into that great tree.

But the Alleluia verse makes reference to another similar parable, saying, “The seed is the word of God.”  Here too is the power of the word, the Biblical texts that carry the Gospel to us.  Traditional Catholic spirituality above all allows the Biblical word to be planted in our soul.

And indeed our Gospel reading ends with a reference to this: “Without parables he did not speak to them, but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.”  Christ’s words themselves are like the seed: parables that seem pointless, but when received into our heart, when planted in the depths of our souls, infinitely powerful.  Let us put ourselves at the feet of Christ, and listen to his words.

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The Old Testament reading, from Ezekiel, gives another variant on this theme of the power of the Gospel: “I, the LORD, bring low the high tree, lift high the lowly tree, wither up the green tree, and make the withered tree bloom.”

We should hear allusions to Our Lady’s song, the Magnificat:

“He has cast down the mighty from their thrones

And has lifted up the lowly

He has filled the hungry with good things

And the rich he has sent away empty.”

God is more powerful than human strength.  He has power to cast us down, but thank God if he does, for then we might be weak enough to let his power lift us up.  This is the fundamental message of the Gospel.

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But our reading from Ezekiel has two other interesting parallels to the Magnificat.

Mary goes on, “He has come to the help of his servant Israel.”  In Ezekiel, God says of his little plant, “on the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it.”  The mountain heights of Israel is where Jerusalem is.  God does not just push people around.  Above all he builds his people, builds his Church – all this use of power is at the service of building up the true Israel.  Let us find ourselves in that Israel, locate ourselves always within the Church.

Mary concludes,

“. . . Remembering his mercy

The promise he made to our fathers

To Abraham and his children forever.”

And Ezekiel concludes, “As I, the LORD, have spoken, so will I do.”  Again, it is not just a matter of power; God uses his power to be faithful to his promises.  The Gospel is the promise.  Let us listen to that promise, let us trust in it, let us stake all on believing his word to us.  That is where the power is.

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Finally, Second Corinthians is all about encouragement in suffering.  But our selection this Sunday says, “we walk by faith, not by sight.”  It uses other language about being “at home” in the body, or in the Lord – at home is a loose translation, but the point is where we find ourselves.  Here we find ourselves in the land where God’s power seems weak, where the Gospel seems hard to understand, hard to believe, where human power – Egypt – seems  more reliable.

We need first simply to recognize this fact: the Gospel is fundamentally about living by a power it is hard for us to see.

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But we need also to strive forward, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.”  Well, again, “judgment seat” is a loose translation: we will stand at the feet of Christ, stand before him.  One day, we will see that he alone is strong.  Let us, on the one hand, tremble before that day, realize that nothing can matter but aligning with his strength, weak though it may seem in this land of faith.

But let us, too, take consolation in knowing that one day the veil will be torn away, and we will see the truth of our faith, the truth of the Gospel, the truth of the promises and the power of Christ.

Where are you being called to walk by faith?