14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ez 2:2-5; 2Cor 12:7-10; Mk 6:1-6a
A theme that connects the three readings today is rejection or negativity or even failure. Ezekiel is sent as a prophet to preach to the Israelites who are “hard of face and obstinate of heart . . . a rebellious house.” Jesus comes to his own hometown and teaches in their synagogue, but “they took offense at him.” And Paul, in 2nd Corinthians, speaks of “insults, hardships, persecutions” that he has learned to accept for the sake of Christ, “. . . for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
In our Gospel selection this morning from Mark we hear of the brothers and sisters of Jesus, and four names are even given. At face value it would look like it contradicts the Catholic doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. Our Protestant brethren believe that Mary had other children besides Jesus. The Jerome Biblical Commentary points out that “In classical and Hellenistic Greek adelphos means ‘blood brother.’ In the Septuagint it translates the Hebrew [word] ‘ah, even when used in the sense of ‘kinsman.’ Greek papyri from Egypt also preserve the wide sense of adelphos, ‘relative.’ “ And the JBC goes on to state, “In view of the New Testament teaching on the virginal conception of Jesus (Mt 1:18-25; Lk 1:34) and the Christian tradition about Mary ‘ever-virgin’ in the Creeds, adelphos is understood as ‘kinsman, relative.’ “ (p. 239 of NT; 49:15)
Jesus, in this passage, is also referred to as “the son of Mary.” This is odd, since one was usually referred to by naming his father. This could very well be a slur on Jesus’ unique birth, claiming he was illegitimate. This rejection in his hometown of Nazareth is a foreshadowing of his later rejection by his native land and people, the Israelites, at the time of his crucifixion.
But that rejection and apparent tragedy on Good Friday ended up being part of God’s Master Plan to save the whole human race. Paradoxically, what looked like a failure on the surface ended up being the greatest triumph of all time. And I think that is the lesson St. Paul is trying to pass on to us in the second reading. It was a lesson that didn’t come easy to Paul. He was an achiever. He had a lot of drive and energy. He was competitive. He was a fighter. Failure and rejection was a bitter pill for him to swallow. Weakness was something he fled from at all cost. He was a hard nut to crack, and it took quite a few adversities to finally chip away that immense ego. But finally, in our passage from this morning, he was able to say, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” “For power is made perfect in weakness.”
Success often makes us feel self-sufficient. We’re doing fine on our own and don’t really need God. Our attention to him kind of gets shoved to the side by all the other busyness that takes over our lives. A mental breakdown, an uncontrollable addiction where we hit rock-bottom, the loss of a job or a spouse or a child, often end up being a turning point in our life. I have heard many people say in retrospect that it was the best thing that ever happened to them. Of course, they would never volunteer to go through it again, but after having survived it and grown and matured through it, and after having gained a whole new perspective on life and what is really important and what really isn’t, they are thankful God led them through that crucible to burn away all the dross.
Most of us have more than our fair share of pride and ego and self-centeredness. Like St. Paul, we need to have that chipped away, and the process is not exactly pleasant. We have dreams and make our plans, but they often crash and burn because there was too much “self” wrapped up in them. Meanwhile, God goes about accomplishing his plan in us, which often doesn’t make sense until we look back from a distant vantage point. We look at the surface, in the midst of it, and only see failure and weakness and misery. But the more broken we are, the more God is able to get our ego out of the way. Our weaknesses quite often end up being the very channels where God is able to most effectively reach us. And the more we are able to get ourselves out of the way, the more God is able to work through us. Because you see, it really wasn’t all about us in the first place.
So the next time we are discouraged and feel like we’ve just succeeded in making a big mess of everything, let us find this precious passage in 2nd Corinthians 12 about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” and meditate on Our Lord’s message to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”