First Reading Commentary
Ezekiel is a prophet and thus one has to interpret this Reading from a prophetic, mystical view. Otherwise, this Reading is a puzzle if trying to understand it from the surface only.
The “crest of the cedar” is referring to the royal stock of David.
The “tender shoot” planted “on a high and lofty mountain” is Jesus. And what is this “high and lofty mountain?” Literally Mount Zion but prophetically it is the Church.
A lofty spiritual life of each and every one of us is intimated in this Reading as “birds of every kind” does not mean birds literally. Birds can fly, therefore this imagery is used to designate the souls of those for whom prayer is a priority; and through this life of prayer grow closer to Jesus and thus are able to lift their souls above the desires for temporal goods. That is, those, who like everyone else, must live and work in this world and labor for the Lord in it but are able to find that trustful, heavenly peace in all its troubles.
This is why secularism and relativism is so dangerous. Those ideologies will never find peace in a troubled world. Many kingdoms have come and gone in human history, but Christ’s Kingdom remains forever as will His Church as He has always, in the midst of her storms, guided her to safety.
Second Reading Commentary
Being “away from the Lord” simply means that we are pilgrims. Notice the comparison: We are like those who are on a journey and are far from home. Such an environment can be taxing. Perhaps no one can relate to that journey more than those who serve in the military, especially those who are in harm’s way. But Saint Paul calls us to be on a spiritual journey possessing courage and faith.
We all know how rough the road can be as no one escapes the journey without suffering. Our faith tells us that all of us at His appointed time will “leave the body and go home to the Lord,” to “appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” Until that time, what is our mission? Saint Paul answers that for us: “We aspire to please Him, whether we are home or away.”
Anyone who has journeyed to other nations whose language and culture is different from what they’re accustomed to knows how uncomfortable that can be at times. In the spiritual life we are strangers in a foreign land. As Saint Augustine said: “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee” (Confessions of Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo).
The scattering of seed which sprouts and grows is explained by Saint Jerome as the preaching of the Gospel and knowledge of the Scriptures which makes the Kingdom of God grow in the heart of man.
Saint Ambrose speaks of the mustard seed as such: “If the Kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, and faith is like to a grain of mustard seed, faith is then truly the Kingdom of heaven, and the Kingdom of heaven is faith. He therefore that has faith possesses the Kingdom of heaven. And the Kingdom of heaven is within us, and faith is within us. Now let us, from the nature of the mustard seed, estimate the force of this comparison. Its seed is indeed very plain, and of little value; but if bruised or crushed it shows forth its power. So faith first seems a simple thing, but if it is bruised by its enemies it gives forth proof of its power, so as to fill others who hear or read of it with the odor of its sweetness.”
And we are called to live out this faith as Saint Aphraates teaches us: “It is not enough to read and to study the Sacred Scriptures; we must fulfill them also.”
On the parables of Jesus, Nicholas of Lyra, a Franciscan exegete, writes: “We must observe that parables have more explanations than one: some more easy while others are more difficult to understand. In parables, the multitude understood the more literal interpretation, while Christ explains the more abstruse and hidden sense to His apostles.”
Interesting that by Jesus explaining the parables to His disciples in private seems to delineate inklings of the Magisterium or teaching authority of the Church. Although Jesus no longer walks the earth, the Magisterium is able to teach the faith by the power of the Holy Spirit.