29. ORDINARY 11th SUNDAY B
1st Reading = Ezekiel 17: 22-24
Psalm = 92: 2-3, 13-14, 15-16
2nd Reading = 2 Corinthians 5: 6-10
Gospel = Mark 4: 26-34
PEARL – LIMITING GOD
OPENING REMARKS – STORY:
The principal of a Christian grade school had been observing her young student’s behavior during lunch time and noticed some very selfish activity. It seemed that instead of taking one apple, some students were taking two or more and the apples ran out before every student had an opportunity to get one. The principal gathered all the students and proceeded to give a lecture on the requirements, value, and importance on being considerate of others. Despite the lecture, however, the problem persisted. So, one day she decided to apply some divine assistance to teach a lesson and put a handwritten note behind the apple basket for all to see. It read, “Take only one apple, God is watching.” To her amazement it was an immediate success as the students complied and there were enough apples to go around. But later that day a cafeteria worker reported they ran far short of Oreo cookies and many students had to do without. Upon investigating that problem, they noticed a not so neatly printed note, apparently written by a student, that had been placed in front of the Oreo cookie tray. It read, “Take as many cookies as you want, God is watching the apples.”
WHERE IS GOD?
Have you ever noticed how we have become accustomed to believing that God is only where we put him? If he is watching the apples, he can’t possibly be watching the cookies too. We construct God’s boundaries, limitations, and time slots, where God is allowed to enter only into certain areas of our lives and only when we want God there and can get somewhat disturbed when God violates the constraints we impose. Attempting to limit God’s activity or presence in our lives is extremely counterproductive to our faith development. Therefore, it may not surprise us to know that God has a different plan and it is expressed in today’s readings.
Chapter 17 of the book of Ezekiel, is God’s message through the prophet to the rebellious Israelites. In their obstinance, they refused to allow God to defend them against neighboring enemy attacks, and despite the prophet Ezekiel’s warnings, made alliances with powerful pagan nations to bolster their fighting forces and increase the chances of defeating their enemies. It was a poor choice because their rejection of God’s help led to their defeat in battle and many years of captivity in a foreign land. If only they would have heeded the prophet’s words and accepted God’s intervention on their behalf, life would have been much better for them.
God refused to accept their limitations of his involvement in their lives and to hopefully teach them a lesson, caused their pagan alliances to be unfruitful. In today’s reading, God goes one step further in coming to their aid. God will restore the former dynasty under king David, where they enjoyed peace and prosperity, not because they deserved it but because God will keep his part of the covenant made with their forefathers. God promises to plant the new and eternal kingdom, that will never be defeated, under the Lordship of his only son, Jesus Christ. By rebuilding David’s dynasty, God proves that only Israel’s God can restore a people’s destiny.
Psalm 92 is a hymn of thanks and praise for God’s faithful deeds and declares as a Psalm Response, “Lord, it is good to give thanks to you.” Another way of saying it could be, “It would be foolish not to give thanks and praise to God for his goodness.” The verses selected for today’s proclamation emphasize that God’s goodness should be proclaimed from daybreak to nightfall. Early monks and some religious orders would always have two or more of their number rotating sleep and awakened hours to assure that prayer and praises would be sung or said twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Not even one minute in a day would be left void of praising and thanking God. Today’s Psalm comes with a promise in the last two stanzas. The just (those who yield to God’s full working in their lives) shall flourish like the palm tree, because they are planted in the house of the Lord. They shall bear fruit even in old age …” Our God who keeps his covenant throughout all generations will do this. The last verse in today’s Ezekiel reading exclaims, As I, the Lord, have spoken, so I will do it.”
Pray for the courage to take God at his word and so experience his marvelous deeds on your behalf.
FAITH OR FEELING?
Few if any servants of the Lord have endured more hardships than Saint Paul. In 2 Corinthians 11: 23-29, comparing himself with those who boast of their trials, Paul catalogs that his trials are far greater; “far greater labors, far more imprisonments, far worse beatings, and numerous brushes with death.” Then continues with some detail, “five times I received forty lashes minus one, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked - and the list goes on.
Against this experiential backdrop, Paul writes in today’s second reading, that we have good reason to be courageous, because God will never leave us or abandon us – his love is steadfast and sure. There is a longing on the part of one who has received God’s loving presence and who loves God in return; to want more intimacy with the Lord. Love craves nearness.
This leads to a burning desire to please God in everything we think, say, and do. But, shame, pride, sin, rebellion, or fear can cause us to limit God’s involvement in our lives and blind us to the power of God’s love. Paul proposes the solution, “we walk by faith and not by sight.”
Faith seals our relationship with God. That is, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves, regardless of what we see, hear or feel; faith assures that we are not alone, have not been abandoned and God will see us through. Redemptive suffering is a difficult concept to grasp with our intellect, instead we must accept in with our will. Just as Jesus proved that on the other side of the cross is glory, we too can know the other side of suffering is sweet peace and assurance of God’s presence.
GOD’S WAY, NOT MINE:
Thus far we have reflected on ways we limit God’s activity in our lives. That premise centers on our needs, our wants, and what satisfies us so that if anything is not feeding into my satisfaction at any given moment, I could decide to call God in to change the way things are going. But, isn’t that very self-centered? Isn’t it as if I make the rules, I call the shots, and God sits by passively waiting for permission to enter the game, to play with my ball on my court? Today’s Gospel takes a different yet related approach. Through the parables of Jesus, it implies the question of whether God needs us at all or can He run the world (our world) very nicely with or without our help?
In the parable of the scattered seed, the one who scatters sleeps and rises night and day (in other words, doesn’t do anything else) and without him knowing how or contributing in any way, the seed sprouts, because God does the work. We have all experienced this type of God’s intervention in small and larger ways. When a surgery goes smoother than anticipated, a lump that was once visible is no longer seen, a financial issue is worked out unexpectedly, someone appears in our life that helps to give us a new perspective, a sudden transformation of someone dear who has been in our heart and in our prayers, or a genuine certifiable miracle.
A deacon friend tells about a weekend parish mission conducted by a FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) team, and he was responsible for gathering twenty or more parishioners to help in forming prayer teams. As he asked people if they would help, most were willing with the stipulation that someone else would lead the prayer and they would be silent back-up. He assured everyone that was no problem as there would be three priests and seven deacons there as prayer leaders. So, twenty-three people committed to attending. And they faithfully prayed and fasted (at home) the week before the mission and came one hour before the participants arrived to pray the rosary interceding for the success of the mission. Everything was going fine until it turned out that the priests were needed to hear confessions and could not be team leaders.
The FOCUS leader was not deterred and proceeded to make up prayer teams the first night. It turned out that he was the only deacon there. The prayer teams were made up of two lay people and it was a baptism by fire as none of them felt qualified to lead prayer. After a short instruction on how to pray with people the teams were turned loose. At the end of the mission every one of those lay prayer team leaders thanked the deacon for inviting them to serve in that ministry. Most of them had never experienced the power, peace and joy of helping someone encounter the Lord and they were grateful for it. The deacon concluded that when all his neatly planned ideas went out the window, the Holy Spirit came rushing in, and God’s people were richly blessed.
CLOSING COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS:
Ezekiel did prophesy the Lord’s message. Paul did accept the call of Jesus to be apostle to the Gentiles and suffered great hardship for it. The sower did scatter the seed. The deacon did ask 23 people to serve as prayer team members. The FOCUS team leader did train neophyte prayer team volunteers.
Did God need the human involvement and activity put into these events? Absolutely! Could God have accomplished the rebuilding of David’s dynasty, the conversion of pagan Gentiles, the seed sprouting, the Holy Spirit working at FOCUS without the human involvement? Absolutely!
Could any of us humans have accomplished anything without God? Absolutely not!
God demonstrated his desire for people to cooperate in his plan of salvation by using patriarchs, prophets, kings, apostles and anyone of us willing to serve. Everything comes from God’s initiative, therefore credit for our involvement must be given to God for motivating our “yes.”
Can God watch the apples and the Oreo cookies, and accomplish miraculous things in our lives as well? Only a fool would think not. The psalmist writes, “Only a fool says there is no God.”