SUNDAY’S READINGS | June 13, 2021

Track 1: 1 Sam. 15:34-16:13Ps. 202 Cor. 5:6-10 [11-13], 14-17Mark 4:26-34

Track 2: Ezek. 17:22-24Ps. 92:1-4; 11-142 Cor. 5:6-10 [11-13], 14-17 • Mark 4:26-34

The prophet Ezekiel, ministering during the 70-year Babylonian Captivity, speaks often of hope for a return to the land of Israel and the restoration of a legitimate king in the Davidic line. His hope is not merely for the Jews, but for all people, and so he highlights the universal blessing of Israel promised to Abraham and anticipates the catholic scope of the Church. Using the image of a small twig pruned from a cedar tree, he promises great and generous growth. To be clear, he is speaking of Israel, the Church, and all members of the Church.

“I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar tree; I will set it out. I will break off a tender one from the topmost of your twigs; I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain” (Ex. 17:22). “I myself.” God will do this; God will prune and plant and provide for growth. “On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar. Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest the winged creatures of every kind” (Ezek. 17:23).

Hearing the promise of the prophet Ezekiel, we inevitably recall the words of Jesus: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. … My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples” (John 15:5, 8).

The exiled children of Israel and, more expansively, the exiled children of Eve will grow under the watchful eye of the risen Gardener (John 20:15). The Psalmist expands the theme. “The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap” (Ps. 92:12-14). Loving us to the end, the risen Lord promises prosperity in good works and virtue even to old age.

Just as we do well to meditate occasionally on death, we may profit from a consideration of advancing old age. It is not uncommon to hear of an “aging church” and an “aging society,” along with attendant anxieties about survival. There is another and better way to consider this. “The old age of the church,” says St. Augustine, “will be white [gray] with good works, but it shall not decay through death” (Sermon on Ps. 92). The gray hair of an old person may be a testimony to a long life of fruit-bearing, which not even death can end. Do we not grow in grace forever and ever? The Church is ever ancient, ever new.

God plants and provides, gives growth in ways hidden from view. “The kingdom of God,” says Jesus, “is as if a someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head” (Mark 4:26-28).

God plants the seed; God prunes the twig; God gives the growth. But God’s working is largely hidden. We know not how. We know our obligations and our bounden duty, we know our joys and our sorrow, we know our triumphs and devastation. But below the surface of what we know, providence pulsates with hidden growth and goodness.

Look It Up: 2 Corinthians 5:16

Think About It: A new creation sprouts from the tree of the cross.