11th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Year B

Trees are a rich source of symbolism in the Scriptures: from the Tree of Life in Genesis which reappears in Revelation, to the Burning Bush and the Psalms, to the Cross of Christ.

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First Reading: Ezekiel 17:22-24

  • One of the most striking things in this passage is how active God is: it is God who takes and plants, God who has spoken and will do the planting. How often are we aware of, or acknowledge, God’s action?
  • Trees are a rich source of symbolism in the Scriptures: from the Tree of Life in Genesis which makes a reappearance in Revelation, to the Burning Bush, to the Psalms, to the Cross of Christ. You might want to ponder over some of these plant images in relation to this passage.
  • You might like to read this passage alongside the Magnificat; what connections and parallels do you see?

Psalm: Psalm 91(92): 2-3, 13-16

  • This psalm proclaims that the just will grow like a Lebanon cedar – the type of tree described by Ezekiel.
  • What does it mean to be just in this sense?

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:6-10

  • Paul here speaks of life on earth as exile from the Lord, yet Jesus promised at the Ascension that he would be with us always: how do these two perspectives come together?
  • Paul places great emphasis on pleasing the Lord whether by his life or by his death; in that he hands over control and concern for his circumstances to the Lord and decides to find peace and joy in whatever comes his way. How might we learn from this way of thinking?

Gospel: Mark 4:26-34

  • Linking to the Ezekiel passage above, the emphasis in this passage is again on God’s unseen action. The quality of unseen, or unknown action also links nicely with Paul’s message in the 2nd reading.
  • Jesus’ famous parable of the mustard seed conveys the extraordinary growth of the kingdom. It’s reminiscent of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2, where a small stone from heaven smashes the statue representing the kingdoms of the world and grows into a mighty mountain.
  • There is an eschatological character to these parables, you might want to reflect on that and how our belief in Jesus’ second coming should affect our day to day living.


I grew up somewhat connected to a farm. One of my relatives is a farmer, I have fond memories as a child of sitting in the cabin of the combine harvester as it rolled along scooping up the wheat.

I know that life is difficult for farmers when the weather is unusually wet or too hot; when the conditions are poor for sowing the seeds for the year’s harvest.

I was struck, then, by the first parable in today’s Gospel: a man throws seed on the ground.
It’s a favourite image for Christian missionaries. Indeed, I work for Bible Society: one of our previous logos was a figure scattering seed. The focus, though, in the parable is not on the farmer, not on the one throwing the seed. In fact, beyond that initial action the farmer is quite powerless!

Jesus tells us that of its own accord the land grows that seed into a shoot, then an ear, then the full grain in the ear, until finally it’s time to harvest. The farmer doesn’t need to know the science of it all. It happens naturally, so to speak. This is the image that Jesus uses to try to unfold for us something of the mystery of the Kingdom of God: that reign and rule that is at the heart of the Christian message, and so quite important to understand.

The seed is the gospel: the good news, the story of Jesus as Lord.

That seed is thrown and scattered by telling people the gospel.

The minds and hearts of those people we tell are the ground on which the seed is thrown.

At that point, the farmer takes a step back. Obviously he still tends the fields: he waters the seeds, he weeds the ground, etc. But ultimately the growth of the seed happens unseen to human eyes, fuelled by the sun and the nutrients in the soil.

Likewise, a good missionary disciple doesn’t just dump the message of the gospel on a person and disappear; they, or maybe someone else, nurtures that seed. They help the person with questions they may have, takes them deeper into the Bible, brings them to Mass, and so on.

But ultimately once the seed is sown it’s the Holy Spirit who brings that seed to life and grows it so that, God willing, at the end of that person’s life they have become a ripened gospel plant, having grown and dropped fruit and scattered many more seeds over their lifetime.

What is the point of this horticultural image, though? I think it’s simply this: God is in charge. We are in his Church, working for his Kingdom, under his direction and watchful care. It’s not ours, and it’s not our project. There’s freedom in that, of course; we don’t have to do everything ourselves. No, God does the heavy lifting. All we need to do is be faithful to our small part.

So, are you sharing the gospel? Are you scattering it liberally wherever you go?


  • Catechism of the Catholic Church, 302-324: divine providence
  • Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium
  • Pope St. Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi