Ezekiel 17: 22-24; 2Cor 5: 6-10; Mark 4: 26-34
Israel finds itself in a situation in this first reading, somewhere lost between what they have known and what’s been most familiar and their call to be the “majestic cedar” that Ezekiel makes them aware of in this text. Cedar was a hot commodity. They were considered the most majestic of trees, durable and flexible; they were great for building. So to be called to be the “majestic cedar”, Israel is being called to greatness, and in turn, you and me as well.
There’s one problem…Israel only knows what it knows, and it’s a history that carries much weight with it. Just read backwards from this passage and you’ll hear the plight of the people Israel. They’ve questioned God’s faithfulness in the past. They’ve experienced war and violence. They’ve experienced exile for years and years, and so the natural response of Israel, despite the call of many prophetic voices, is to question and doubt and get lost in the known of the past; they’re holding on tightly uneasy with taking such a risk. Once again, as we often do in our own lives when we live only with what we know, we hesitate and question this call to something like the “majestic cedar”; how can this be, after all we’ve been through and yet, again, God calls Israel to the unknown, to their deeper call.
Paul reminds the people of Corinth of the same in their lives and their relation to the community, the “body”. Like us, they too are also caught somewhere between the tension of the past and their future life. Paul tells in the words that we are most familiar, “we walk by faith, not by sight.” We have a tendency as Israel and the people of Corinth, to just keep doing what we’re doing, even if it no longer brings life and we’re aware of what it does to them and others in their community. But it’s what they know, it’s what they see, despite being called to walk by faith, to be willing to step into the unknown of where God is leading. For Paul, the eye is always on the prize, even if it is not seen and is unknown. Paul has become the majestic cedar that he has been called to and now he leads others on that same journey. He too had to learn as the prophets try to lead, to let go of the known and expected path in order to create space for the true call.
The disciples are moving towards their call in being the majestic cedar as followers of Christ, but of course, need to be taught to trust the internal voice calling them to be who they are. The end of the passage we hear today Mark tells us that Jesus explains everything to them in private. We too must ask whether we settle for the outside interpretation or strive for an insider understanding of what it means to be the majestic cedar in our lives. At this point the disciples are more concerned with what the outside authorities are saying and it makes them nervous and anxious. Maybe most importantly is the first parable Jesus teaches of the man who goes off and plants seeds. Once seeds are planted, even in our own gardens, it’s out of our control. All we can do is wait and trust that something will take shape. We can’t rush it. We can’t pull the plants out of the ground. All we can do is continue to water, nurture, and fertilize; the rest is in God’s hands to sprout the cedar tree within us. Like the mustard seed, it becomes the largest of plants with large branches and a place of refuge for the birds of the sky to dwell in its shade.
Doesn’t it sound great, in becoming the majestic cedar like people Israel? Yet, like them, we too can easily trust only the tried and true of our own lives. Our future is too often predicated on the past and becomes a self-fulfilled prophecy in our own lives that somehow it just can’t be that God is calling me to greatness as God was for Israel. Yet, little by little, and it’s always baby steps with us, we begin to let go of what was, the tried and true, all of our predictions, our lens of the past, our hesitations, the external interpretations of our lives, and all the rest that holds us back and yet we believed so hard over our lives…but now it’s just not true and is no longer life-giving. We are the majestic cedar and God calls us to be it, not simply for all eternity, but at this very moment and on this very day.