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Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Ez 2:2-5; 2 Cor 12:7-10; Mk 6:1-6

July 8, 2012

God's grace is sufficient!

Why do we find it so difficult to accept people who manifest extraordinary talent? Artists, poets, thinkers all tell us that they sometimes feel ostracized when they try to express their creative ideas. Do their remarkable gifts cast shadows on our own unremarkable abilities? Does putting them down lift us up? Or have we convinced ourselves that their difference is merely idiosyncrasy, and our rejection is really aimed only at their alleged pride? Whatever the case may be, people who see the world in different and creative ways often have to pay a price for their unusual insight.

Natural talent has been given for the benefit of all. Works of art, pieces of poetry, profound thoughts are not meant exclusively for those who produce them. They are meant to enhance the lives of us all. Culture and civilization grow out of such remarkable ability. We deprive ourselves of their richness when we reject those blessed with such talent.

The biblical prophets knew what rejection was. Not only did they possess a religious insight that was unique, but this insight was the gift through which God spoke to others. Still the people often rejected both the religious message and the insightful prophet. This was probably because of the way they understood the power of the prophetic word. Since it was considered the word of God, no human could prevent it from accomplishing what it described. If the people did not want to hear that powerful word, their only recourse was to silence the one proclaiming it. Hence prophets often faced persecution, even death.

Ezekiel was informed of his future rejection at the time of his call to ministry: "Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you." The people of Nazareth to whom Jesus spoke were no better than the ancient Israelites. They rejected Jesus, saying: "Where did this man get all this? In other words: Who does his think he is? They knew him: "Is he not the carpenter?" The questions that they posed were not asked out of interest; they were attacks, issuing from cynical spirits. Because of their hard-heartedness and rigid skepticism, Jesus was not able to perform many mighty deeds for these people of his own hometown.

This stony reception at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry foreshadowed the kind of rebuffs that lay ahead of him. It must have been particularly stinging, coming from the people of Nazareth, the very people who should have welcomed him with open arms. But they were not welcoming. Rather, "they took offense at him." Jesus simply responded: "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house." These words have echoed down through the ages, strengthening others who have offered their religious insights, only to be spurned.

Paul does not claim to have been called as a prophet, but he does acknowledge that he had been blessed with extraordinary revelations. However, he does not take pride in these graces. Instead, he admits that he was also stricken with some kind of ailment, one that he probably found to be somewhat humiliating. He considered this affliction a reminder of his own human weakness and evidence that any success he might experience in ministry was due to the power of God working through him.

Paul had not initially accepted this "thorn in the flesh." Three times he prayed that it might be removed, but to no avail. The answer that he received not only assured him of God's care but, like the words of Jesus above, have strengthened others who have faced what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles: "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." Today's readings assure us that neither rejection nor personal limitation need inhibit the power of God working in our lives.

By Dianne Bergant, C.S.A., Professor of Old Testament Studies

This reflection first appeared in America magazine and can now be found in The Word for Every Season: Reflections on the Lectionary Readings (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 2010).

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