Friends, we are back to Ordinary Time again, but as I always tell you, this simply means, no special season of weeks such as Advent, preparing for Jesus to come at Christmas or the whole Lenten-Easter cycle remembering Jesus’ sufferings and total gift of himself, in love for us, followed by the Resurrection signaling our rising one day too. Even so, this so-called “ordinary time” is filled with very challenging moments, calling us to greatness, through basic goodness as we strive to follow our brother Jesus.
Today, we are called to reflect on the miraculous growth that happens in small ways—like that of a mustard seed—one so very small that has such great potential in becoming one of the largest shrubs. Ezekiel, in our first reading today lays out the power of God in our midst, highlighting the grandeur in all created life, stressing the fact that nothing is impossible for God.
This reminds me of my flower gardens this year as it seems that all the elements of nature have come together just right—enough sun, enough rain—perhaps this year, I mulched just right—whatever the combination, the plants seem healthier, more vibrant, more beautiful! Sometimes we take the beauty of all created life for granted—I know I do, and every once in a while, something catches my attention and I remember again, to slow down and take notice of the beauty all around. One of the blessings of taking a vacation is to allow ourselves that slowing down, that ability to discover a new, in a different place, the beautiful world our God has gifted us with. Retirement for me this year has helped me do that.
A little back-story today to help us truly understand the readings: The prophet Ezekiel is writing to a people humbled, demoralized really, from defeat in battle, from years in exile—he is trying to instill hope that again, nothing is impossible for God—their God is with them, something they must believe and hold on to.
God’s message through Ezekiel is about nature with the connection intended to speak to their lives. God says, “I will stunt tall trees and make low trees grow tall—those that are now green, will grow dry—those dry will grow green. Apparently, there will be justice one day. Hearing these words encourages me because sometimes I wonder why we can’t somehow learn as countries, as people, to live peacefully with each other—I wonder too, if we even try. It seems we must all strive for a change of heart—to thinking that looks beyond our own needs, desires—as nations, as people to what is best for the greatest majority of people inhabiting this planet.
I received yet again another message this week to ask our congress people to pursue gun legislation that keeps us safe. I, along with you and many others across our nation have asked repeatedly for this, yet, big money and an inability in our legislative bodies to get any meaningful work done because they can’t agree and won’t work together continues to plague our nation. I find myself thinking—enough already—get on with it! I would like to challenge each of you, if you haven’t already to contact your congress people and ask them to compromise and get our nation’s work done.
Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians reminds us that, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” Sometimes we may wonder when the good will flourish—when wars will cease—when the reign of God, hinted at in Paul’s reading and taken on fully in the gospel today from Mark, will actually happen. It seems that it will take the eyes and ears of faith to see and hear, to fully recognize the reign of God in our midst. And perhaps, it will take the responsible nature within each of us, doing our part toward making our world a place we truly want to live in and be a part of.
As an aside today, I think we see the beginnings of good, ole Christian/Catholic guilt coming from Paul as he warns that we will “get what we deserve” for the way we have basically lived our lives. I think these early followers must have been going astray for Paul to write this—and it seems to me that we need not worry so much about final judgment if we concentrate on walking in the footsteps of Jesus—living the law of love—asking often and really in every situation—“What would Jesus do here—would he take the easy way out—stand mute before discriminating actions, words of injustice toward one group of people over another or would we stand up and at least ask a question to slow a process down—what is it that we are truly saying by this action?
I read somewhere recently that when we see evil in our world and do nothing, we are guilty—it would seem that the least we can do is make our voices heard! Back in the 60’s, John Howard Griffin became famous for his book, Black Like Me, wherein he performed an experiment, darkening his skin so as to experience what our black brothers and sisters have experienced in our country for far too long. He made the statement, “The greatest way for evil to triumph is that good [people] remain silent.”
Ezekiel’s reading mentions the cedar—how it starts out as a tender shoot and is planted on the high mountain where really, the conditions are quite harsh. It seems, in many ways, it prospers under these conditions. Many times that is true for us as well. Harsh conditions that we may be called on in our lives to bear; illness, death of a loved one, loss of job and home, neglect, insensitivity from others, can many times open up our hearts to be more aware of, and sensitive to, the needs of others—out of pain—growth and strength. It is not in proclaiming our own greatness that we become great—greatness lies in what we do—who we become for others and for our world.
The readings today, especially the gospel, speak of the reign of God. All the earth belongs to God and God wants each of us—all of us to know that we are loved and that God longs for the day when we will realize that. Then perhaps, we can truly say, the reign of God is here—now! It does take eyes, ears and a heart of faith. If we but look around at the beauty of nature—we may begin to understand that God made this beautiful earth for us to enjoy—to share.
We must walk by faith, not by sight!
There is a definite difference between plant growth and the reign of God as we are directed to consider in this week’s readings—but all of God’s creation is sign and symbol of how much our God loves us and we must strive to care and love this earth given us by God. We had the good fortune this past week to view a public television show on the Apollo Program and the race in the 1960’s to be the first to get to the moon.
Within that program which concentrated on the mission of Apollo 8 which basically orbited the moon ten times—no small feat—first humans to do that, history, through these three astronauts, recorded the now famous “Earthrise” picture from space. This happened on Christmas Day, 1969 and these astronauts reflected on the fragility of our beautiful planet hanging out there in the blackness of space. And amid the beauty, came the realization of all the strife upon our planet at that time, the escalating Viet Nam War and the unrest among our black sisters and brothers. Yet, today still, I have hope as I look at all of you and your willingness to keep choosing life and openness within this community of believers, that good will rise and overcome all that is unfinished even in our day.
Our eyes of faith allow us to witness what our human sight can’t always make out. We will see God’s reign coming to fruition in the small events of each day: In our homes in the patience of others when frustrating events take place, in the kindness of a neighbor bringing some food when someone has died, in the loving touch of a caretaker, in the willingness of women and men who put themselves in danger for the good of us all, in the honesty of a neighbor over a business enterprise—so many everyday events that sometimes demand the eyes of faith to realize that, “yes” the reign of God is coming, little by little, each day.
The reign of God friends, is like the tiny mustard seed in our gospel today—so insignificant seemingly, yet with so much potential. The reign of God will not happen though simply by us hoping for it—it will take all of our best efforts—we don’t have to wait for some cataclysmic final event—the reign of God is here now, in our midst—the potential is within each one of us.