Homily: 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
One of the most prevalent ideologies of our day—one, in fact, that covers many other ideologies—is that we make can make ourselves. This is the idea that there is no set plan for our lives and so our job is simply to decide what we want to make of it and then to go and do it. Our scriptures today remind us, however, that there is a plan, much bigger than us, that God is working around us and with which he wants us to cooperate so as to bring about his kingdom; and that our fulfillment comes not when we make ourselves, but when we participate in God’s plan. Let’s take a look at what I mean.
Like all good ideologies, the ideology that we can make ourselves is founded in truth. Having been created in the image and likeness of God, we have freedom to determine our lives. This is important: because, without this freedom, we would be less than human. But where the ideology goes wrong is when it assumes that our freedom begins with a blank slate. In other words, the ideology that states that we can make ourselves assumes that we can be anything we desire—that is, that, if we are free, we are free from all restrictions—and so we must determine for ourselves what we are going to be and then go out and do it ourselves.
This type of freedom can certainly take us far; and thinking beyond all restrictions has helped us to achieve amazing things (space exploration being one of the most amazing ones, in my opinion). It has the potential to lead us to great satisfaction in our lives—like when we set out to achieve a dream and then achieve it—but it also can lead us to the depths of despair—like when we realize that the goals upon which we had set all our hopes become unachievable (or, even worse, when we achieve the goals and find the achievement disappointing). In either case, however, much is lost because this idea of freedom doesn’t take into account the bigger picture: that there is a plan, much bigger than us, that God is working around us and with which he wants us to cooperate. This is the message in our scriptures today.
In the first reading and the reading from the Gospel, we hear about how God’s plans are working mysteriously around us in order to build his kingdom. In the beautifully poetic passage from the prophet Ezekiel, we heard an allegory for how God will build his kingdom. From the many branches of the cedar tree, which represent the many nations of the world, some big and strong, others less so, God will choose a tender, young branch from the top of the tree, that is, a nation that doesn’t seem significant, and he will remove it from the tree and plant it in a choice place where not only will it grow, but it will grow and stand tall above all of the other nations. It will be fruitful, meaning prosperous, and the birds of the air, meaning the peoples of all nations, will flock towards it to nest among its branches.
Notice in this allegory that the tender branch doesn’t choose on its own to be removed from the tree and planted on the place where it can grow to be greater than the tree from which it was taken. Rather, it is God who chooses the branch and the place where it would be planted so that it can flourish and become the place to which all the birds of the air will flock. In other words, the “tender branch” couldn’t make itself into God’s kingdom, nor did it prove itself worthy, but rather cooperated with God and his plan working through it in order to achieve the full flourishing for which God had made it.
This is the message for us. Certainly, we can make a lot of ourselves in this world by our own doing. We will never achieve the greatness that God wants for us by working on our own, however. Rather, we must recognize that, if we exist, we do not exist for ourselves alone, but for a greater purpose: which is to be part of a plan that is working around us, orchestrated by God, to bring about his kingdom: the kingdom in which everyone will discover the full flourishing of happiness (which is the image of the birds of the air that nest in the tree’s branches). We become part of the plan when we use our freedom to choose to cooperate with it.
As the Gospel reading shows us, this cooperation doesn’t need to be very complicated. In it, Jesus gives us two parables about the Kingdom of God. “What is the Kingdom of God like?”, he asks. Well, it’s like seeds sown in a field. The farmer sows them and they become part of the earth. Then, through the mystery of nature, they begin to grow and eventually produce fruit. The farmer, having watched all of this, then comes to reap the harvest.
For us, this simple image still applies. Our baptismal call is a simple one of spreading the seeds of the Gospel in the hearts of those around us. We do this when we speak about our faith, telling others how the love of Christ has made a positive difference in our lives, and by our good works, showing that the love we receive is an unconditional love that begs to spill out to others. Then, after spreading these seeds of faith, and by watering them by our constant witness to it, we wait as God then works mysteriously in the hearts where these seeds have been sown. Soon, we begin to see the fruits of our labors in the form of conversions to the faith or in the fulfillment of vocations to Holy Marriage, the priesthood and the religious life: all of which are the harvested fruits of the Kingdom of God.
In the second parable, Jesus again describes the Kingdom in simple terms. He says that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed and notes that, though one of the smallest seeds, it nonetheless produces a large bush in which birds can make their nest. What he is emphasizing is that something small and seemingly insignificant can—through God’s mysterious work—grow into something significant that can benefit many. In doing so, he reminds us that even our smallest good works—a simple gesture, or a smile, or a kind word in a tense situation—things that don’t seem worth saying or doing—can and are used by God to produce great fruits in the lives of others.
This is a great example for our fathers here today. Though rarely easy, the task of being a father is simple. There is no magic formula except to love your children and your spouse, to pray for and with your family, to teach your family the faith and to give example of living it in your own life, and to courageously stand up for the truth—both in your home and in the public square. These are the seeds of faith that you as fathers are called to sow. These are the seeds that God will use to produce a great harvest for his Kingdom.
Friends, we are free to make of ourselves nearly anything that we desire. But if an all-powerful, all-knowing, and infinitely loving God already has a plan for our eternal happiness, why would we want to follow our own plans? Why not, instead, give ourselves over to cooperating with his plan, in which we are promised to find great fulfillment and peace? Let us give ourselves, then, to this good work of planting the seeds of God’s kingdom: for when we do, we’ll find that the happiness that we were pursuing, has actually been pursuing us; and God’s kingdom, the tender shoot that has been planted here among us, will flourish so as to draw all of God’s children back to himself.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – June 17th, 2018