Scripture and the Liturgy

11th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Welcome back to Ordinary Time, folks!

This Sunday is the Eleventh of Ordinary Time! Yet we haven’t had an “Ordinary” Sunday since the Sixth (Feb. 14), so what happened?  The 8th–10th Sundays were replaced by Pentecost, Trinity, and Corpus Christi respectively, and the 7th gets skipped this year to make the calendar end before Advent begins on November 28. 

In Ordinary Time, the liturgy follows the continuous reading of the Bible.  In Year B we follow Mark, and resume this Sunday with Jesus’ early ministry in Galilee.  The Second Reading follows Paul’s Epistles, picking up in the middle of 2 Corinthians.  The theme of “seed growing into tree” runs through the Readings this Lord’s Day.

In this week’s Mass readings, Jesus teaches us about himself and the Church using agricultural images.

Since my entire set of commentaries for Year B is now available in book form here, I’ve taken to just posting comments on the First Reading for now.

 (1) This Sunday’s first reading, Ezek 17:22-24, provides crucial background for understanding Jesus’ parable in the Gospel:

Thus says the Lord GOD:
I, too, will take from the crest of the cedar,
from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot,
and plant it on a high and lofty mountain;
on the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it.
It shall put forth branches and bear fruit,
and become a majestic cedar.
Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it,
every winged thing in the shade of its boughs.
And all the trees of the field shall know
that I, the LORD,
bring low the high tree,
lift high the lowly tree,
wither up the green tree,
and make the withered tree bloom.
As I, the LORD, have spoken, so will I do.

The good homilist should explain the background of this Reading a little.  Ezekiel is prophesying during the time when the Kingdom of David was nearing its end (early [high] 500’s BC).  Only the southern tribe of Judah was left for the son of David to rule over.  Northern Israel had already been exiled by Assyria in 722 BC, and Babylon had already deported/exiled many Judeans, especially of the upper classes, included the high-ranking priests and the king himself.  In a few years (i.e. 587 BC), Jerusalem and its Temple would be completely destroyed. 

In the midst of this quite depressing time in the history of God’s people, Ezekiel gives a prophesy of hope: God will preserve the dynasty of David, and it will grow once more.

The “cedar tree” in this parable is the Kingdom of Israel, the “crest” is the royal house, the House of David, and the “tender shoot” is an heir, a Son of David.  God promises to “transplant” this “shoot” to the mountain heights of Israel (=Jerusalem) and he would grow again, becoming an international kingdom.  The oracle seemed hopelessly optimistic and out-of-touch in light of historical events in Ezekiel’s day.  The ancient Near East had seen many nations annihilated and exiled, and many royal dynasties exterminated.  Never had it been known for a royal house to be dethroned, exiled—and then re-established.  How would a son from the House of David ever arise again who could establish an international empire?  Political realists of Ezekiel’s day must have seen him as a hopelessly out-of-touch religious fanatic and poet (see Ezek 33:31-32). They could not possibly foresee that one day the “seed of David” would arrive, who would be “planted” in the earth through his death and burial, only to rise and begin growing as a mystical body, until his body filled the whole earth, providing a “tree of life” for all humanity, the only source of eternal life for every human being.

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