OIP (43)

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 13 June 2021

The passage from the prophet Ezekiel which is our first reading is drawn from a longer passage of prophecy reflecting on the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the deportation of the king and his court. Ezekiel imagines Babylon as a mighty, brightly-coloured eagle, which swooped down on the cedar tree of Israel and broke off its topmost shoot, Israel’s hapless king Jehoiachin. The prophet was under no illusions when it came to the aggressors’ overwhelming force. But, as we hear, Ezekiel’s story turns from image to prophecy: God himself would take a tender shoot from the treetop. Where Babylon had brought low its royal captive, God would raise up a mighty tree offering shelter for all kinds of bird and wild animal.

So, we have the irony that, although the powerful bird snaps off the top of the tree, the Lord will take a shoot of the tree and make it into something that those powerful birds, that symbolize the dominant powers of the day, will take shelter in.

This image is echoed in Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed. God, as He is wont to do, favours the underdog. He chooses the apparently insignificant to be the bearer of His burgeoning providence. The insignificant seed, of course, is Jesus Himself, the Kingdom of God come among them, and the fulfilment of the prophecy of Ezekiel. The seed grows to become the great tree in which all the birds can roost, when the nations find their place in Christ’s kingdom, the New Israel of Jew and Gentile, the Church.

However, this is not a case of “before and after,” but rather a description of an ongoing process. But it is key for us to recognise that it is underway. The efforts of the Church, or our own faltering attempts at good deeds, can seem very little in the face of the world today. But so was the state of Israel in Ezekiel’s day. And, indeed, the state of Christ Himself, apparently just a wandering prophetic figure in the back country of Galilee.

And yet, just as in the parable of the Sower, God is at work. The Church does her part, confident that, by God’s grace, just as the seed becomes, first the shoot, then the plant, and finally the full crop, so the vulnerable shoots we perceive will become the tree sufficient for all the world to take refuge. Both parables that we hear this Sunday are teaching us that we are not to look with the eyes of this world to see what is powerful and successful. Rather, we are to trust that the Kingdom of God is indeed at work, transforming the world.

Fr Chris Denham

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