'All of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body...' - II Corinthians 5:10

Those familiar with biblical prophets know about their concept of the "remnant." Though many begin their prophetic ministry with high hopes, all are eventually forced to admit that few of the "faithful" are even interested in hearing the Word of God, much less carrying it out.

After a while, they're convinced that only a minute number will actually change their lives because of the message the prophets are commissioned to deliver. The prophets have no other choice but to develop low expectations.

In Sunday's first reading (Ezekiel 17:22-24), Ezekiel speaks about that remnant in poetic terms: "I [Yahweh] will take from the crest of the cedar, from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot, and plant it on a high and lofty mountain....It shall put forth branches and bear fruit, and become a majestic cedar."

Lifelong growth
In the midst of rejection, the prophet consoles himself with the conviction that this small branch - those who listen to him and carry out Yahweh's Word - will one day grow into a huge tree.

Ezekiel's ministry didn't revolve around familiarizing his people with a catechism list of beliefs; his task was to demand they live the kind of lives which flow from those beliefs.

My old biblical archeology professor, Robert North, shared his conviction that we have far too many Christians - a position the great theologian Karl Rahner had also defended years before in his classic book, "The Christian Commitment."

"The historical Jesus," North stated, "never intended His followers to be more than a small minority in the overall population. Very few people would actually have the courage to imitate His lifestyle. Yet He was convinced those committed few could change the world."

Both Rahner and North believed that once it becomes socially acceptable to be Christian, Christians will change nothing. Worse yet, they'll start labeling as "radical Christians" the remnant who are actually imitating Jesus.

Walk by faith
As we hear in Sunday's second reading (II Corinthians 5:6-10), Paul knows it takes courage to "walk by faith, not by sight." Yet he knows we're eventually going to be judged only on what we do "in the body."

A million good thoughts about faith don't equal one good action done out of faith. Christians are to imitate Jesus, not just think or talk about Jesus.

What part of Jesus' life are we expected to imitate? In Sunday's Gospel (Mark 4:26-34), it's the part which springs from His conviction that God's working effectively right here and now in our daily lives. He refers to that insight whenever He talks about the "kingdom of God" or the "kingdom of heaven."

Real Christians need lots of patience. Sunday's "kingdom parables" stress the patience of farmers planting fields or sowing mustard seeds. Eventually, what we sow in faith will grow, but it will take a long time before we notice any tangible results.

It's been two and a half generations since Vatican II began in the 1960s. Only a faithful few still seem intent to carry out its reforms. Those who expected instant results bailed out years ago. Present prophets are simply encouraging us not to pull the ripcord.