FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
There is never a good time to be a prophet. It appears that wrapped up in the very nature of what it means to be a prophet is skepticism, indifference, rejection, even possible hostility, all things that we would prefer to shy away from. Although every age needs them, prophets are seldom welcomed, and speaking a message that few want to hear can cause the prophet a critical amount of loneliness. Yes, being a prophet is never easy, as our readings for today’s liturgy point out.
The author of our first reading, Ezekiel, was a reluctant prophet, like so many of the Old Testament prophets. Six hundred years before the time of Jesus, Ezekiel was sent to preach God’s word to the Israelites exiled to Babylon. They were a “rebellious” people, “hard of face and obstinate of heart.” It was clear that Ezekiel needed to prepare himself for something less than a warm welcome. His God-given task of preaching God’s word would not be foiled by rejection, for “whether they heed or resist” it would be enough for them to “know that a prophet has been among them.” The success of Ezekiel’s prophetic journey was not to be measured in conversions or the number of people moved to repentance, for it was in the very sharing of God’s word that Ezekiel already enjoyed success.
In true prophetic spirit, the apostle Paul, in our second reading from his second letter to the Corinthians, is trying to calm the conflicts that afflict this early Christian community. Paul is well aware of the privileged ecstatic theophany that he received from God, the “abundance” of revelations shared with him, converting him from a persecutor of Christians to a pillar of the new church. It was in the very preaching of God’s word, however, that Paul discovered his own personal weakness, a “thorn in the flesh” that would keep him “from being too elated.” Paul “begged the Lord” several times to be freed of this thorn, this idiosyncrasy, until he realized that “power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul was able to “boast most gladly of his weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with” him. What Paul discovered is what all of us are meant to discover, that we are meant to be “content with weaknesses, insult, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” All those who share in the prophetic ministry of Jesus are called to understand this critical piece of good news.
The witness of the very Word of God, Jesus, also experienced skepticism, indifference, rejection, and the ultimate hostility of the cross. In our passage from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus cannot overcome the preconceptions of his old neighborhood. Our passage makes clear that to know about Jesus is not the same as knowing Jesus. Jesus was just a “carpenter, the Son of Mary.” His preaching, which was able to move others to give up everything and follow him, was unable to touch the hearts of the hometown crowd, and “he was not able to perform any mighty deed there.” Jesus was “amazed,” disappointed, and no doubt discouraged by his reception in Nazareth, but like all the prophets of old, he continued to do what he was sent into this world to do, and others would come to recognize in His message that “a prophet [had] been among them.”
As Vatican II reminded us, through our baptism we have a share in the prophetic mission of Christ. We are called by God to preach the good news with our lips and with our lives, in good times and in bad. We are not to be deterred by rejection or indifference; we are not to be discouraged by an apparent lack of success. Like Ezekiel, we must face our mission to preach the gospel with courage, even when our audience is “hard of face and obstinate of heart.” Like Paul, we are to possess a humility which recognizes our own personal shortcomings, our own “thorns in the flesh,” in order that we might embrace our “weaknesses” and come to learn that God’s “grace is sufficient” for us. Like Jesus, the quintessential prophet, we are to face the obstacles we find in our path with a resolute spirit that nothing will prevent us from going about and doing good.
As prophets may we never be judgmental, but may we always be kind, charitable, honest and forgiving, just as Jesus was to all those with whom He came in contact. May we work to eradicate injustice, erase prejudice and discrimination, and cultivate the peace and joy of the gospel which this age, and every age, so desperately needs.