11th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
Note: Where a Scripture text is underlined in the body of this
discussion, it is recommended that the reader look up and read that
1st Reading - Ezekiel 17:22-24
In the history of Judah there were three deportations to Babylon: in
605, eight years later in 597, and again eleven years later in 586. All
three deportations were carried out by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.
The first deportation took place while Jerusalem was under siege and
included the young prophet Daniel. During another siege of Jerusalem,
King Jehoiachin and about ten thousand men, especially soldiers and
metal workers were deported in what became known as the second
deportation; Ezekiel was among the captives. When Jerusalem fell in
586, all the people of Judah, except the poorest of the land and those
who had escaped to neighboring countries, were carried away.
Ezekiel, whose name means “God strengthens,” was of
priestly stock, probably a member of the house of Sadoc, and himself a
priest. He was married, but does not seem to have had any children. In
Babylon he lived in his own house, the exiles of this period having
been allowed to take their families and the moveable possessions with
them. The exiles, although comfortable, were painfully aware that they
were captives. They were cut off from the Temple. They felt that their
ancestors had offended Yahweh but that His anger would soon be appeased
and then they would return to their own land.
Ezekiel received his prophetic calling in 593 (four years after his
deportation) and his first duty was to convince his fellow exiles that
their expectation of an early return was in vain; as was their faith in
the inviolability of the Temple. Yahweh had decreed the destruction of
Jerusalem and the Temple and the dispersion of the people of
Judah. A fact which came to pass seven years later. The fall of
Jerusalem demonstrated the truth of Ezekiel’s prophetic mission;
now Ezekiel had to drive home the all-important truth that the people
were not suffering for the sins of their forefathers, but for their own
sinfulness. If a man truly repents, he will be saved.
With the Temple destroyed, the people were crushed and humiliated, they
were on the verge of despair. Ezekiel offered words of comfort and
hope. It is of this hope that we hear today as the sacred author uses a
literary tool known as an A-B-A sandwich; a device which uses two
allegories (an allegory is a literary composition in which each detail
signifies some reality) to bracket the interpretation. In this case,
Chapter 17 is the entire sandwich with verses 1 through 10 (the
allegory of two eagles) forming one side, verses 11 through 21 being
the interpretation, and our reading (verses 22 through 24) being the
second allegory. To better understand the reading, we will read through
the entire A-B-A sandwich.
17:1 Thus the word of the LORD came to me: 2 Son of man, propose a
riddle, and speak this proverb to the house of Israel: 3 Thus speaks
the Lord GOD: The great eagle,
The great eagle is Nebuchadnezzar.
with great wings, with long pinions, with thick plumage, many-hued, came to Lebanon.
Lebanon is an image for Israel, particularly Jerusalem (see Jeremiah 22:6; Zedekiah 11:1-3; Isaiah 10:34).
He took the crest of the cedar, 4 tearing off its topmost branch,
The topmost twig is Jehoiachin, king of Judah, who was taken into captivity with Ezekiel (2 Kings 24:8-15).
And brought it to a land of tradesmen, set it in a city of merchants.
5 Then he took some seed of the land, and planted it in a seedbed;
The seed represents Zedekiah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, who was named king in his place (2 Kings 24:17-18).
A shoot by plentiful waters, like a willow he placed it, 6 To sprout
and grow up a vine, dense and low-lying, Its branches turned toward
him, its roots lying under him. Thus it became a vine, produced
branches and put forth shoots.
The willow and vine are references to something which grows rapidly.
Those of us in the south can associate kudzu with this same phenomenon.
7 But there was another great eagle,
This great eagle is Pasammetichus II of Egypt; with whom Zedekiah had
made a covenant to help lift the Babylonian attack in 588 (Jeremiah
great of wing, rich in plumage; To him this vine bent its roots, sent
out its branches, That he might water it more freely than the bed where
it was planted. 8 In a fertile field by plentiful waters it was
planted, to grow branches, bear fruit, and become a majestic vine. 9
Say: Thus says the Lord GOD: Can it prosper? Will he not rather tear it
out by the roots and strip off its fruit, so that all its green growth
will wither when he pulls it up by the roots? (No need of a mighty arm
or many people to do this.) 10 True, it is planted, but will it
prosper? Will it not rather wither, when touched by the east wind, in
the bed where it grew?
The east wind is the desert sirocco, a hot drying wind that withers
crops. It is a metaphor for God’s anger (Exodus 10:13; 14:21;
Psalm 78:26). This instrument of wrath was Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah was
a weak king who had been appointed by Nebuchadnezzar when Jehoiachin
was exiled. Zedekiah was caught between the king of Babylon to whom he
had sworn a covenant of alliance (2 Chronicles 36:13) and the king of
Egypt to whom he had appealed for help. Both Ezekiel and Jeremiah spoke
of the allegiance which Zedekiah owed to Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah
11 Thus the word of the LORD came to me: 12 Son of man, say now to the
rebellious house: Do you not understand what this means? It is this:
The king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and took away its king and
princes with him to Babylon. 13 Then he selected a man of the royal
line with whom he made a covenant, binding him under oath, while
removing the nobles of the land, 14 so that the kingdom would remain a
modest one, without aspirations, and would keep his covenant and obey
him. 15 But this man rebelled against him, sending envoys to Egypt to
obtain horses and a great army. Can he prosper? Can he who does such
things escape? Can he break a covenant and still go free? 16 As I live,
says the Lord GOD, in the home of the king who set him up to rule,
whose oath he spurned, whose covenant with him he broke, there in
Babylon I swear he shall die! 17 When ramps are cast up and siege
towers are built for the destruction of many lives, he shall not be
saved in the conflict by Pharaoh with a great army and numerous troops.
18 He spurned his oath, breaking his covenant. Though he gave his hand
in pledge, he did all these things. He shall not escape!
These verses emphasize why Ezekiel considers Zedekiah’s rejection
of Babylon so wrong: he has broken a solemn covenant with
Nebuchadnezzar – a covenant sworn before God.
19 Therefore say: Thus says the Lord GOD: As I live, my oath which he
spurned, my covenant which he broke, I swear to bring down upon his
head. 20 I will spread my net over him, and he shall be taken in my
snare. I will bring him to Babylon and enter into judgment with him
there over his breaking faith with me. 21 All the crack troops among
his forces shall fall by the sword, and the survivors shall be
scattered in every direction. Thus you shall know that I, the LORD,
The accusation continues but with the third-person description becoming
a first-person speech of God. The covenant is no longer seen as between
Zedekiah and Nebuchadnezzar, but between Zedekiah and God, since the
covenant was sworn using God’s name. It is God who brings the
judgment; even though He will use Babylon as the instrument of
22 Therefore say: Thus says the Lord GOD: I, too, will take from the
crest of the cedar, from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot,
And plant it on a high and lofty mountain; 23 on the mountain heights
of Israel I will plant it.
The tender shoot represents a future king from the house of David (2
Samuel 7:13). Nazareth (from nezer, meaning shoot or branch) is the
shoot of Jesse (Isaiah 15:1). Jesse was the father of King David.
It shall put forth branches and bear fruit, and become a majestic
cedar. Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it, every winged thing
in the shade of its boughs.
The birds hearken back to the story of Noah’s ark (Genesis 6:20)
where the term is part of the description of all living things.
24 And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the LORD, Bring
low the high tree, lift high the lowly tree, Wither up the green tree,
and make the withered tree bloom. As I, the LORD, have spoken, so will
The majestic cedar of the preceding verse is the symbol of the royal
house of Judah. If this majestic cedar is the King of Judah, the
“trees of the field” are the surrounding kings and they
will know that God humbles the mighty and raises up a new power from
nothing. God brings up a new king of the Jews to rescue them from the
lowly state of punishment to which Judah has fallen. The cedar is the
messianic tree of David.
2nd Reading - 2 Corinthians 5:6-10
Saint Paul now continues our reading from last week by teaching about
our heavenly dwelling which is our ultimate destination and how we are
to work to achieve it.
6 So we are always courageous, although we know that
while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord,
This earthly tent we occupy is not our home; our home is in heaven. We
are just passing through this place. We are shown in other places (Acts
16:16-40; 22:22-29; Romans 13:1-7; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Ephesians
4:28) that just because we are not “with the Lord” now,
doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t concern ourselves with
building up the earthly city.
“We who in this world are ‘away from the Lord’ walk
about on earth, it is true, but we are hastening on our way to heaven.
For here we do not have a lasting place, but we are wayfarers and
pilgrims, like all our fathers” [Saint Jerome (after A.D. 392),
Short Commentaries On The Psalms, 63].
“This council exhorts Christians, as citizens of two cities, to
strive to discharge their earthly duties conscientiously and in
response he Gospel spirit. They are mistaken who, knowing that we have
here no abiding city but seek one which is to come (Hebrews 13:14),
think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities. For
they are forgetting that by the faith itself they are more obliged than
ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper
vocation (2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Ephesians 4:28). ... The Christian
who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward his
neighbor and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation.
Christians should rather rejoice that, following the example of Christ
Who worked as an artisan, they are free to give proper exercise to all
their earthly activities and to their humane, domestic, professional,
social and technical enterprises by gathering them into one vital
synthesis with religious values, under whose supreme direction all
things are harmonized unto God’s glory” [Vatican II (7
December 1965), Gaudium et spes, 43].
7 for we walk by faith, not by sight.
Our faith is the light which shows us the way as we progress toward eternal life.
8 Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.
Here we see Saint Paul’s conviction that he will meet the Lord
when he dies (Philippians 1:21-23). When we reach our home in heaven,
we will no longer need the light of faith, because God Himself and
Jesus the Christ will be our light (Revelation 21:23).
9 Therefore, we aspire to please him, whether we are
at home or away. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of
Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he
did in the body, whether good or evil.
The Magisterium of the Church has defined [Benedict XII (29 January
1336), Benedictus Deus, 1000] that souls will receive their eternal
reward or punishment immediately after death – or after they pass
through purgatory, if they have to do so. The reward or punishment,
given at the particular judgment and ratified at the general judgment
at the end of time, is based on a person’s merits gained during
his life on earth. Once he has died, he can no longer merit. Saint Paul
is pleading with us to do everything we can in this life to please the
“Those who drag in a doctrine of moral indifference do violence
to some few passages of Scripture, thinking that they support their own
love of pleasure; in particular, the passage For sin is not to have any
power over you, since you are not under the law but under grace (Romans
6:14). But there are other such passages, which there is no good reason
to record for these purposes, as I am not equipping a pirate ship! Let
me quickly cut through their attempt. The admirable apostle in person
will refute their charge in the words with which he continues the
previous quotation: What then? Shall we sin because we are not under
the law but under grace? Of course not! (Romans 6:15). With these
inspired prophetic words, at a single stroke he undoes the sophistical
skill at the service of pleasure. So they have not understood, it seems
that ‘we must all appear before Christ’s tribunal, where
each must receive what is due to him for his physical conduct, good or
bad,’ that is, where a person may receive recompense for what he
has done by means of his body” [Saint Clement of Alexandria
(after A.D. 202), Stromaties, 3,8,61].
Gospel - Mark 4:26-34
According to Mark’s gospel, Jesus began teaching in parables
shortly after appointing the twelve. A parable is a wise saying or
short fictitious story used by Jesus to set forth His teaching.
Parables may contain allegorical elements. Today we hear the parables
of the growing seed and of the mustard seed.
26 He said,”This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as
if a man were to scatter seed on the land 27 and would sleep and rise
night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. 28
Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear,
then the full grain in the ear. 29 And when the grain is ripe, he
wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come.”
Jesus is telling His disciples about His Church: The preaching of the
gospel (the generously scattered seed) will unfailingly yield its
fruit, independent of who sows or reaps – it is God who gives the
growth (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).
30 He said, “To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it?
This also refers to the action of grace in each soul: God silently
works a transformation in each one of us causing us to make resolutions
which shape our soul. We resolve to be faithful, surrender ourselves,
respond to grace. Our callings and responses may be different as we are
individuals (Ephesians 4:11-13). Even though we must make the decision
to become a follower of Christ, it is the Holy Spirit who, working
within us, gives a supernatural tone to our thoughts, desires and
31 It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in
the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. 32 But once
it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts
forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its
The main meaning of this parable has to do with the contrast between
the great and the small. The seed of the Kingdom of God on earth is
something very tiny to begin with (Luke 12:32; Acts 1:19); but it will
grow to be a big tree. The seed is planted in Peter and the apostles,
has set its roots in Rome, and has grown to be a big tree; one which
encompasses the whole world; a great multitude which “no man can
number” (Revelation 7:9).
This growth also occurs in each soul. As predicted in the responsorial
psalm [Psalm 92:12 (92:13 in the New American Bible)] “The
righteous grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” To allow the mercy of
God to exalt us, to make us grow, we must make ourselves small, humble.
33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able
to understand it. 34 Without parables he did not speak to them, but to
his own disciples he explained everything in private.
St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Picayune, MS http://www.scborromeo.org