14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ezekiel 2: 2-5; 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10; Mark 6: 1-6
I doubt anyone here would deny that Ezekiel was a great and powerful prophet. We have to keep in mind that this man of God was given an extremely difficult task to carry out. Understandably, he was fearful and anxious. After all, he was a frail and flawed human being, just like you and me. His human condition did not hinder God’s ability to use him as an instrument of grace. The prophet could lay claim to no strength of his own. As we ponder the mission of Ezekiel, we are reminded that prophets do not assume their tsk on their own. They are called to the ministry by God. It is God who chooses His ministers and it is God who sets them on their feet. The choice of the message, of the prophet, and of the recipients of the message is God’s, and His alone.
By calling the prophets God showed His need for ordinary people who are willing to acknowledge that they are weak and flawed, so that He can manifest his grandeur and power through them. It was his compassion for the people and his love for God that allowed Ezekiel to support the people who were with him in exile. Pain, suffering and mental anguish are part and parcel of walking the walk of faith. The prophet could not depend upon his own strength and had to rely upon the Spirit that entered into him. Similarly, when we are weak in ourselves, we need to depend on the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Writing to the Church in Corinth, Saint Paul reported that he had asked the Lord to remove a particularly bothersome suffering that he referred to as a “thorn in the flesh.” We have never been told what the thorn was. But we do know the Lord’s response to the apostle’s request, “My grace is sufficient for you for power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul never doubted that the Lord heard his prayer. Neither did he doubt that the Lord answered his plea for help. At the same time, he had to admit that the answer he got was not the answer he had expected or wanted.
We have no record of how long the apostle to the Gentiles wrestled with his disappointment. However, we know that he did come to peace with the Lord’s response: “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” I am reminded of the story of Jacob wrestling with God. As he hobbles away on his disjointed hip, he tells everyone he meets that even though he wrestled with God, he lived to talk about it. This encounter with Christ would become the foundation of Paul’s dealing with suffering. This great disciple never hesitated to recount the sufferings he experiences; nor did he hesitate to proclaim the power of Jesus experienced through them – “for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Paul’s message for believers is clear: Disciples of Jesus should not expect to be shielded from suffering. Rather we should expect our weakness to become the occasion for experiencing the power of Jesus at work in us. Because God loves us, he will keep us from being puffed up. Spiritual burdens can be used to cure spiritual pride. When we are tormented with a thorn in the flesh, we should turn our minds and hearts to God in prayer. Prayer is a salve for every sore, a remedy for every malady; and If an answer be not given to the first prayer, nor to the second, we are to continue praying. Even though God does not take away our troubles and temptations, he gives grace to endure whatever comes our way. In times of distress, true to His Word, God will be our strength. We have Christ’s word for it. “If you come to me when you are burdened by your daily task, I will give you rest. If you yoke yourself to me, your burden will be easier to carry” (Cf. Mat. 11:28-30).
Throughout His ministry, Jesus revealed the Father’s love for His people. Jesus exercised His power as one who came to serve others and not as one who expected to be served. He came to build up the Kingdom of the Father by ransoming all who were wandering in a valley of darkness. The Word became Flesh, not to destroy the people who opposed Him, but to redeem them by taking their sufferings and death to Himself. By emptying Himself of all the grandeur that is rightly His as the Beloved Son of God He freely laid down His life for the life of the world. Having been rejected by His own people and followers, He grants forgiveness to all who stand in the shadow of his cross. By accepting death on the Cross, He offered all the children of Adam and Eve the promise of eternal life. Through His victory over death, Christ showed us that to be truly human means to pour ourselves out in the service of our neighbor.
Having come to the Light, we have reason to be confident in the abundant mercy of God. In our lowliness we can look up into the heavens and wait for a word from the Lord. The Psalmist put it quite beautifully. “As the eyes of servants are focused on the hands of the master, and as the eyes of a servant-girl are fixed on the hand of her mistress, so our eyes are waiting for the Lord to have mercy on us” (Ps. 123:2). We stretch out our hands expecting a blessing from His outstretched hand. Let us humbly acknowledge our weaknesses and limitations, realizing that it is upon the downtrodden that God breathes our His Spirit. Having been brought to the fullness of life in Christ, let us strive to establish relationships with all people under the mastery and guidance of justice and love. As we enter into communion with the Living Word, let us allow Him to “set us on our feet.” Let us do for others what God has done for us.
Footprints in the Sand – by Mary Stevenson
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”