Sunday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time – Year B

Posté par diaconos le 12 juin 2021

The smallest of all seeds, when it grows, crowds out all plants

« C’est la plus petite de toutes les semences, mais quand elle grandit, elle dépasse toutes les plantes potagères »

# Hell is a religious term and refers to a place or sphere of existence to which one can go after death and which is characterised by a high degree of physical and mental pain and suffering. Almost all religions mention the existence of one or more hells. The concept of hell is commonly used in Christianity and Islam. After death, souls are said to go to the afterlife. Depending on piety, honesty, chastity and/or other things, a higher power decides whether a soul can go to heaven or must go to hell.

Hell, in this sense, is the opposite of paradise, i.e. a dwelling place in the absence of God. In the Hebrew Bible, not much attention is paid to a resurrection and an afterlife. The oldest concepts speak of the patriarchs being « united with their ancestors ». The grave is the realm of the dead Sheol (Hebrew: שְׁאוֹל, ʃeʾôl) and it is important to live well on earth because in the grave there is only darkness[ The meaning and translation of Sheol are controversial. This concept of the afterlife does not distinguish between good and bad people. Existence in the Sheol is a negation, similar to the Greek phantom realm.

The dead lead a shadowy existence there, awaiting judgement. The Staten translation usually translates as « hell » and sometimes as « tomb » and the 1951 NBG translation as « realm of the dead ». Sheol is often mentioned in connection with the fate of the wicked. Therefore, Old Testament scholar Mart Jan Paul suggests that the translation with « hell » is perhaps too specific, but better reflects the negative emotional value of « kingdom of the dead ». John Calvin also acknowledges in his Institutions that « hell » can often be interpreted as « tomb ». In Judaism, after the Babylonian exile, a second term emerged to indicate a place where the dead rest: Gehenna (Hebrew: גהנום, gehinnom).

The name Gehenna derives from the « Valley of Hinnom » that surrounded the ancient city of Jerusalem. While Sheol was a place of refuge where all awaited judgement, Gehenna was a much more negative place, which, however, cannot be equated with the Christian concept of hell, since, for example, the devil does not appear in the Hebrew Bible: « Many of those who sleep on the earth, in the dust, shall awake, some to live forever, others to be eternally despised and abhorred ».

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# The parable of the sower (sometimes called the parable of the soil) is a parable of Jesus that occurs in Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, Luke 8:4-15, and in the Gospel of Thomas, Logion 9. Jesus spoke of a farmer who sows seeds indiscriminately. Some seeds fall on the road with no soil, some on rocky soil with little soil, some on soil with thorns, and some on good soil. In the first case, the seed is washed away; in the second and third cases, the seed produces no harvest; but when it falls on good soil, it grows and produces thirty, sixty or a hundred times more.

Jesus explained to his disciples that the seed represents the gospel, the sower represents those who proclaim it, and the different soils represent people’s responses to it. Jesus speaks of a farmer sowing seeds indiscriminately. Some seeds fall on the road with no soil, some on rocky soil with little soil, some on soil with thorns and some on good soil. In the first case, the seed is washed away; in the second and third cases, the seed produces no harvest; but when it falls on good soil, it grows and produces thirty, sixty or a hundred times more.

Jesus then explains to his disciples that the seed stands for the gospel, the sower for those who proclaim it, and the various soils for people’s reactions to it. C In the gospels of Mark and Matthew, this parable, the explanation of the purpose of the parables and the explanation of the parable itself are all part of the third or « parabolic » discourse, delivered from a boat on the Sea of Galilee. In each account, Jesus used the boat to address the large crowd on the lake. In Luke’s Gospel, no boat is used to give the sermon, but Jesus nevertheless presents the parable to a large crowd gathered from « all the cities » and follows the parable with a question about the purpose of parables and an explanation of the parable of the sower himself.

While the parable was told to the crowd, the explanation was given only to the disciples. Jesus says he teaches in parables because many object to his direct teaching. He quoted Isaiah 6:9-10, who preached to Israel knowing that his message would not be heard or understood, with the result that the sins of the Israelites would not be forgiven and they would be punished by God for them. This parable seems essential to understanding all the other parables of Jesus, because it makes it clear that what is needed to understand Jesus is faith in him, and that Jesus will not enlighten those who refuse to believe in him.

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From the Gospel of Mark

26 He said, « The kingdom of God is like a man sowing seed in the ground ; 27 night and day, whether he sleeps or rises, the seed sprouts and grows, he knows not how. 28 By itself the earth produces first the grass, then the ear, and finally the full ear. 29 And as soon as the grain is ripe, he puts out his sickle, for the time of harvest has come. 30 Again he said, To what shall we compare the kingdom of God? What parable can we use to represent it ?

31 It is like a mustard seed ; when it is sown in the ground, it is the smallest of all seeds. 32 But when it is sown, it grows up and overtakes all the food plants ; and it spreads out long branches so that the birds of the air can build their nests in its shade. 33 With many of these parables Jesus preached the word to them as far as they were able to hear. 34 He did not tell them anything without a parable, but explained everything in detail to his disciples.  (Mark 4, 26-34)

A power of life

With what can we compare the kingdom of God ? With what story can we illustrate it ?  Jesus, as a good teacher, gives us an idea by telling us two short stories. The kingdom of God can be compared to a sower who sows the seed in his field. This seed germinates and grows without knowing how. The earth itself produces the plant, the ear of corn, and when it is ripe, it is harvested. (Mark 4, 26-29).

Now that the field has been prepared and the sowing completed, the farmer is sure of the result, because he knows from experience that the seed will germinate and eventually bear fruit. If his field is well tended, a good harvest can be expected. This man’s behaviour helps us to understand God’s behaviour towards us. God behaves like this sower. He waits patiently for the time of harvest, allowing the seed he has sown to ripen.

The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed: when it is sown in the earth, it is the smallest of all the seeds in the world. But when it is sown, it grows and surpasses all plants; and it spreads out long branches, so that the birds of the air can build their nests in its shade. Here the tiny seed becomes a towering plant that grows beyond all vegetables.

It is a beautiful image for the actions of Jesus, which might have seemed insignificant during his ministry. But Jesus is always present and active among us. In these two stories, the little seed is the image of the word of God. The Word of God has within it a life force that enables it to bear fruit spontaneously.

There is the same affinity between the Word of God and our souls as there is between the soil and the seed. In both cases it took time to reach maturity. The sower was watchful and patient. As the kingdom of God grows, we must see the signs. Let us strive to see them in our community. Lord Jesus, give me the strength to be patient and to dare to present your word of life in the right circumstances in which I live.

Deacon Michel Houyoux

Links to other Christian websites

◊  Loyola Press : click here to read the paper → This Sunday’s Readings

◊  Father Hanly : click here to read the paper → Homily for 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

    Homily on the Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

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