Homily for the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B, 2024

Readings:  Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Cor. 5:6-10; Mk 4:26-34

Theme: ‘Mustard seed things make mountains move around’ (Freddie Robinson Jr)

In 1973 a German-born economist, Ernst F. Schumacher, published a book entitled Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered. In it he argued in favour of small sustainable technologies, respectful of nature and favouring people above profit. The book became an immediate best-seller, and, in 1999, The Times Literary Supplement ranked it one of the most influential books of the twentieth century. Today’s scripture readings remind us that small is not only beautiful; it is also God’s chosen way of manifesting his power and establishing his reign on earth. The God we worship is the God who uses tiny things to make big things happen; the God who chooses small beginnings, insignificant events and people to achieve his purposes; the God for whom vulnerability, powerlessness and smallness are blessings rather than curses.

Our first reading is taken from the prophet Ezekiel, who lived in the 6th century BC. This was a time when the people of Israel were exiled from their homeland and reduced to slavery in Babylon. The prophet employs the metaphor of a small shoot becoming a mighty cedar tree to encourage his disheartened fellow Israelites and keep their hopes alive. He assures them that God has not abandoned them, that he will bring them back to their own land and make them great again:  I will plant it (the shoot) myself on the high mountain of Israel. It will sprout branches and bear fruit’ (Ez 17:23).  The shoot refers to God’s faithful remnant, the ‘Anawim’ or ‘little ones’, who remained steadfast in the midst of terrible adversity and became the nucleus of the restored Israel after the exile. It was from this faithful remnant that the Messiah came. By their fidelity to prayer and humble submission to God’s will, this remnant, this small shoot carried forward and purified Israel’s messianic hope. To the ‘anawim’ it was no scandal  that the Messiah was to come from a poor family and be born in a cattle-shelter.

In today’s gospel passage from St Mark, Jesus employs the image of small seeds producing extraordinary results to explain how God’s reign grows on earth. Mark’s gospel, like the book of Ezekiel, was written at a time of persecution and crisis for the early Church to strengthen the faith of its members.  The expected Parousia – Jesus’ Second Coming – had not arrived. Many Christians were abandoning their faith, while self-appointed prophets and teachers were distorting the message of Jesus and creating confusion. The faithful few were wondering if God had abandoned them. It seemed as if the Church was doomed and the Kingdom of God a long way off.  In this context Mark recounts five parables of Jesus about the Kingdom of God and how it grows. Two of these parables appear in today’s gospel reading. The first uses the image of seed growing mysteriously by its own inner energies in the dark of the night as well as in the light of day. The second employs the image of a tiny mustard seed developing into a large shrub with wide spreading branches providing a home and shelter for the birds of the air. Both images, taken from nature, highlight the mysterious manner in which God works to achieve his purposes.   God is at work even even while we sleep or when we think he is asleep or has abandoned us. ‘Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear’ (Mk 4:28).

We live in a time, not unlike that of the Israelites in exile, or of the early Church at the time of Mark: a time of dramatic decline for the Irish Church, both in the practice of the faith and its influence on society; a time of general mistrust of religious and civil institutions; a time of confusion and uncertainty.  But if God’s Kingdom is like a mustard seed, then the size of our institutional Church is not important. It’s the quality of our witness to Christ and the Gospel that really matters. Moreover, tiny seeds of hope are beginning to emerge.  According to a recent report in The Irish Catholic (6th June), there are signs of a ‘young Catholic counterculture emerging in modern Ireland reflecting a renewal of faith and community’ (p. 6). Surely this is the good seed that, in God’s time, will yield  wonderful results. So, let us not lose hope in the face of adversity. Like the ‘anawim’  of old, let us learn the art of vitality in smallness and increase the quality of our faith and relationships. Let us work for the coming of the Kingdom even if the desired result is not yet in sight. Let us open our eyes to the seeds emerging around us and do all in our power to nurture them.

The following ‘poem’, entitled ‘Of Small Things’. from the pen of American hip-hop poet, Freddie Robinson Jr, might serve as a communion reflection.

Great things
are always recognized.
They are given awards and prizes;
History records the great things;
spurts of revolutionary thought creating,
civilization course changing
These be the elements of great things But, what of the small things,
the little things
that often go unnoticed and unseen
Not appreciated much are the small things
Like a kind word of encouragement,
given to a weary soul
in need of a wee bit of comforting
Such a small act of love
sprinkled on fallow ground,
sprouts a great soul revival
which in turn makes more love abound
Mustard seed things
make mountains move around
Small things be the catalyst for great spiritual transforming
I will sing praises of all the small things
given to me in my lifetime
To awake each day,
and feel the love of another morning sunrise
To go to sleep peacefully at night,
and dream of loving things
that will flow to me in rainbow rivers of light
So beautiful are the small things,
things I will always speak of;
simple little things …
like seeing a blooming flower
send forth a sweet fragrance of love

Michael McCabe SMA

Click on the play button below to listen to an alternative homily from Fr Tom Casey SMA.

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