FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – FOURTH OF JULY (2021)
Readings:Ezekiel 2:2-5Psalms 123:1-42 Corinthians 12:7-10Mark 6:1-6
We, and, if we are lucky enough to have children baptized, were anointed at our baptisms to be like Christ, “priest, prophet, and king.” All Christians share in those three dimensions of Christ’s mission, and today’s liturgy largely focuses on our call to be prophetic.
So many of the classic prophets were what we might call “reluctant” prophets, people who were content with the way their lives were playing out, and who did not want the additional burden of preaching to anyone they were sure wouldn’t listen. Not that many weeks ago we read of Jonah, who was overwhelmingly surprised when the Ninevites he was preaching to “repented in sackcloth and ashes.” Most often, it doesn’t go that easily, which is perhaps why God is so blatantly honest with Ezekiel in today’s first reading. The Lord politely asks him to go to the Israelites who God describes as “rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day. Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you.”
God’s description could not have filled Ezekiel with a great deal of confidence. We can be sure Ezekiel felt as though the mission was doomed from the start. It is then that we learn something about the way a prophet’s actions are judged to be successful or not. Jonah was peculiarly lucky when the Ninevites repented, but even his mission was not to be measured in whether the Ninevites repented or not. Rather, as God tells Ezekiel the important thing for the Ninevites and the Israelites, who “are a rebellious house,” is that “they shall know that a prophet has been among them.” Ezekiel’s success would not be measured in whether the Israelites “heed or resist,” but rather his success is to be measured in Ezekiel’s just preaching God’s word among them, which is all that God is asking Ezekiel to do. God will take care of the rest; “God will give the increase.”
The apostle and prophet Paul, author of our second reading, knew success and failure in preaching God’s word. Indeed, his martyr’s death gives testimony to an ultimate failure, when hardened hearts were unable to be moved by his words and witness and the adversaries eventually killed him. As Paul’s abundant extant letters show, he was not slowed down by any lack of success. The important thing was to insure that people heard God’s word, for without hearing God’s word they would be unable to heed God’s word.
Paul had a keen sense that God was able to speak through him, even with his own weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. Paul hints in this second reading of some fault or weakness that is so difficult to eradicate from his life that it keeps him humble, and no matter the “revelations” that he has been privileged to hear, there is no reason for pride. It would have been hard for Paul to escape his personal history, for even Luke in his Acts speaks of Paul’s outright persecution of followers of Jesus. But what is spoken of here in 2 Corinthians seems to be of a more personal nature, a “thorn in the flesh…, an angel of Satan to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.” Whatever it might have been, it caused Paul to put his whole faith in Jesus, and he could “boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” Paul lists what is in store for prophets of all kinds when he speaks of “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints,” and highlights that what could be interpreted as failure and weakness, is, indeed, strength.
Today’s gospel from Mark speaks of Jesus teaching in the synagogue of His hometown, and some are “astonished,” but not in a good way, for “they took offense” at Jesus. It appears that there is truth to the statement that “familiarity breeds contempt!”
The people listening to Jesus could not understand where His preaching came from, or on what authority He taught. “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” Their statements were uttered with scorn, causing Jesus to state: “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.”
The cumulative effect of our Sunday readings show the difficulty of what seemed so easy in our baptisms; following in the prophetic footsteps of Jesus is truly never easy, especially when we encounter an incredible “lack of faith.” But preach the gospel with our lips and our lives must be done, regardless of the cost, regardless of the chance of success. Prophets today are not necessarily going to stand out among the crowd. Their awareness of their own weakness keeps them humble, never seeking glory or praise, but intent on preaching God’s word.
The prophets in our world may be encountered in the most unexpected of places, the most unexpected of people. It is the courageous ordinary people who ask us to abandon prejudice, to share our wealth with those less fortunate, to feed the hungry world all around us, to seek the difficult peace, to find justice where there appears to be no justice, to choose the truth instead of falsehood, to forgive those who have offended us, to love those who have betrayed us. The voices of prophets will not necessarily be the loudest voices we hear. But if we listen with the ears of faith, we will hear the voice of Jesus urging us to do what is right and just, and we will “know that a prophet has been among us.”