Lift up the lowly Ez 17:22-24; Ps 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16; 2 Cor 5:6-10; Mk 4:26-34 A recent item in the newspaper caught my eye. Loretta Micele, who passed away in 2014, spent 70 of her 95 years working joyfully at a concession stand at the White Sox stadiums. In appreciation, the White Sox named a concession lounge in her honor: Loretta’s Lounge. Her family was proud of her and used to take family pictures in front of the sign in fond memory of dear and hardworking Grandma Loretta. But when they went to ballpark recently, they found that Loretta’s Lounge has been renamed La Russa’s Lounge in honor of the Sox manager, Tony La Russa. In their enthusiasm to honor their new skipper, the White Sox apparently forgot even to notify Loretta’s family and had thrown away Loretta’s sign. A lot of fans are not happy about this. This may be an unusual way to introduce the readings for this mid-summer Sunday in Ordinary Time, but, in fact, the readings highlight an intriguing motif that runs through the Bible, namely that God favors the lowly and the hidden more than the high and mighty. If push comes to shove, God favors the Lorettas of this world. That paradox is stated in the poetic passage from the prophet Ezekiel, whose writings are filled with symbolic and sometimes puzzling imagery. Speaking in God’s name, the prophet uses the imagery of planting trees in a mountain forest. God takes a “tender shoot” from the top of a tall tree and plants it on a high and lofty mountain. Despite is fragile beginnings, this tiny green plant becomes a “majestic cedar” and “birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it.” Conversely the former “high tree” will be brought low and wither. Many interpreters understand Ezekiel’s imagery here as a reference to the promised Messiah, echoing imagery used earlier by the prophet Isaiah, who speaks of the future deliverer of Israel as a “sprig” or tender shoot that shall sprout from the “stump of Jesse,” the father of King David. David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons, we remember, was almost overlooked by the prophet Samuel in his quest to anoint the future king. Similarly, in exile — a time of loss that absorbs Ezekiel’s attention — the small “tree” of the Davidic line had been “cut off” in the destruction wrought on Israel by the mighty Babylonian empire. But God, Ezekiel affirms, will not abandon his people, and will lift up the returning exiles and restore them to the heights while Babylon’s mighty kingdom would soon fade away. In a different melody but using the same message, Paul shares his own sense of fragility with his community members in Corinth. In a tone that suggests he is nearing the end of his life or else is thoroughly discouraged by setbacks, Paul concedes he “walks by faith, not by sight,” but still does not lose courage. He is confident that Christ will never abandon him. In today’s selection from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus speaks about the hidden nature of God’s kingdom. A farmer sows seed in a field and goes to sleep at night, unaware of how that tiny seed ultimately “sprouts and grows” until it blossoms into a rich harvest. In another parable, Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, “the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.” It, too, through God’s creative love “springs up and becomes the largest of plants so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” This sentiment is echoed in Mary’s strong hymn, the Magnificat. In a tone reminiscent of her son’s own prophetic voice, she praises God who “has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly.” One of the consequences of the pandemic we should not forget is how often it was the lowly, at least from the world’s point of view, who did the hard and essential work of keeping us all alive — the healthcare workers, the ambulance and delivery truck drivers, the police and firefighters, those who sanitized the public spaces, members of our families who kept on going when others lost their way. Such humble and authentic service is not forgotten by our God of love and justice.