The annals of history are replete with cases of good people being rejected by those who label them. Sadly it is when we think we know so well that we start becoming vulnerable to faulty judgment. This unfortunate prejudice limits capacity to perceive objectively. When Albert Einstein failed to speak until he was four years and to read until was nine years old, he was labeled by his school master as unsociable and adrift in his foolish dreams while Socrates was written off as an immoral corruptor of youth. Yet these people lived to contradict their naysayers by being world’s respected geniuses. Such erroneous conclusion was applied on Ezekiel, Paul and Jesus. Today we are challenged to look at others with unbiased open eyes.
First reading: Ezekiel 2:2-5
Mahatmam Mohandas Gandhi once said, ‘It is possible for a single individual to defy the whole might of an unjust empire to save his honor, religion and soul and lay foundation for that empire’s fall or regeneration’. Gandhi, a twentieth century celebrity and leader of a nonviolent movement acted as God’s mouthpieces/prophets like Ezekiel to make a difference. Ezekiel was empowered by the Spirit of God to call forth truth, justice and fidelity in situations where these qualities were being overshadowed by the lies and faithlessness. Ezekiel ministered during the chaotic years before and after Judah’s fall to Babylon in 586 B.C. His prophecies were geared towards changing political and religious compromises of his nation. Before Nebuchadnezzar’s troops began their siege of Judah Ezekiel’s message was full of threats and warnings. After the conquest and subsequent exile, he turned to comfort and encourage, describing himself as a watchman on behalf of Judah. He calls on each person to account for his/her actions despite their rebellious and consistent refusal to listen and obey. Like Jeremiah, Ezekiel attributed every misfortune that befell the people as a consequence of their own sin. Yet God is willing to forgive them and to restore them to their own land if they sincerely repent.
Called and charged by God to speak to the people, Ezekiel was fully equipped for this mission. Regardless of their recalcitrance, hard of face and obstinate of heart, the power of God at work in him was such that even the most rebellious would be caused to acknowledge that a prophet was among them cf. Ezekiel 2:8. The assurance that God’s word would prevail is further affirmed by the designation of the prophet as Son of man a title that occurs 90 times thereby emphasizing the fact that this message is God’s not from Ezekiel. Because of this, reward and retribution upon the people would be decided by God alone. Today, Ezekiel seems to be asking all of us here present. . . Have you ever met a prophet? Would you listen to his/her message or do you believe prophecy to be passé? . . Any one who denies the continuing existence of prophets also denies the power of God who is continuously speaking to humanity.
Second reading: 2Corinthians 12:7-10
So many of the people whom we regard of as great have had tremendous obstacles to overcome on their respective paths to greatness. John Milton was blind. Beethoven was deaf. Alexander the Great and Franklin D. Roosevelt were crippled. Abraham Lincoln had a nervous breakdown, was rejected from law school; lost four jobs and eight elections before he was elected President of the United States. In this text, Paul tells Corinthian that his path, too, was fraught with struggles.
Though it may be difficult to determine precisely what Paul meant by the phrases “thorn in the flesh and an angel of Satan to beat me” 2Corinthians 12:7; could have been referring to his short stature which was barely three cubits. A cubit is 18 inches high. Similarly it could also have been some demonic force like anger, seasonal depression or a physical malady cf. Galatians 4:13-15. His need to “write with large letters” Galatians 6:11 propose that Paul had acute trouble with his eye sight, but because also the term ‘thorn in the flesh’ in Hebrew also refers to people, Paul could have been describing his endless opponents and critics cf. Numbers 33:55. The fact that Paul prayed to be relieved of his “thorn” 2Corinthians 12:8 attests to the suffering it caused him. Nevertheless, his faith enabled him to accept this pain as a teaching moment through which he and others would learn of the power of God’s grace. Rather than glory in his personal stamina to withstand the struggle, he attributed it the grace of God abundant in him.
For that reason, he freely boasted and publicly acknowledged his weakness as a vehicle through which God’s power was being manifested cf. 2Corinthians 12:9-10. The difficulties faced in Corinth have proved to be a blessing for the Church across generations. His responses to pastoral challenges are a guide to believers facing crisis while his advice encourages all who find a bit of the Corinth in their own lives as they wrestle with whatever thorn in the flesh is besieging them. In our efforts to live the gospel fully and courageously we must be ready for the thorn in our flesh.
Gospel: Mark 6:1-6
Rejection is never pleasant but when it originates from those that are close and dear, it becomes overwhelming. Jesus was rejected by friends and neighbors who would have rather welcomed him. Prior to this experience, he had met with opposition from the Jewish authorities that accosted him on several accusations among them: Powers to forgive sin cf. Mark 2:1-12. Preference for tax collectors and sinners cf. Mark 2:13-17. Stand about fasting cf. Mark 2:18-22. Perception about ritual purity cf. 2:23-28 and healing on the Sabbath cf. Mark 3:1-6. Besides squaring it off with scribes and Pharisees, Jesus was also misunderstood by his family who thought him mad and wanted to curtail his public ministry cf. Mark 3:20-35. In today’s gospel, it is his hometown crowd that has rejected him. Mark has placed this episode carefully at this point in his gospel to express that even though many Gentiles were accepting and welcoming the gospel, the Jewish people were on contrary rejecting it.
Although the Nazarenes were impressed by Jesus’ teaching, miracles and the large audience, they did not move beyond their amazement and questions. Where did he get all this? Instead of embracing conversion they took offense at him because of their narrowed preconceived notions and expectations. Their presupposed familiarity with who Jesus was stopped them from reaping graces. Since faith was a necessary prerequisite for Jesus’ acts of power, he could not work miracles there.
There is a valuable lesson for the Church in this gospel. If the Church is true to its mission, as Jesus was, it too will encounter rejection. Of course, the Church must not erect unnecessary stumbling blocks such as outmoded terminology, philosophical concepts and what have you before people; thus preventing them from hearing the Christian message. The Gospel instead invites us to challenge the scandal of ‘too much-ness’ as well as ‘indifference’ to the saving message of Jesus given the fact that the truth can never be watered down simply to be more palatable. The basic responsibility of the Church is not to win converts at all costs, but to proclaim the good news faithfully, in season and out of season.
We are all called to challenge our attitude since it can easily lead us astray. Ezekiel faced unfounded rejection when he was empowered by the Spirit to minister to his rebellious contemporaries, let us do our best to avoid repeating the same. Paul reminds us that it is precisely through our weakness that the power of God finds complete expression. Thus, rather than simply complaining; we need to acknowledge by God’s grace our weakness can turn into venue for God’s special surprises. Because of familiarity, the Nazareth fraternity lost the opportunity simply because they thought they knew all about Him. Such prejudices should not find room among us today. Their lack of faith and capacity to discern and read the signs of the time proved an obstacle. They found Jesus too common for them to be the Son of God. For them he was the ‘boy next door and son of the carpenter’. They knew where he lived and who his family was, they also thought they knew what he could accomplish and who he would become. As a result of their myopia, Jesus ‘could work no miracle’ among them. We need to guard ourselves against false presumption so that God can act through our nature to save us.