July 5: Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
Readings: Ezekiel 2:2-5; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6
The readings of this Sunday invite us to reflect on our prophetic witness that St. Paul compares to a thorn in the flesh. We are reminded that the exercise of such a role is not always respected in the world. On the contrary, in standing for the truth we risk being ridiculed, rejected, hated or persecuted. Today I would like to highlight St. Paul's words - where he speaks about having a thorn in his flesh. We don't know what the thorn was: perhaps some physical infirmity like stomach problems, insomnia or impaired vision. We don't know. In my forty years as a priest, I have seen that most people (myself included) identify with Paul's words. We have some weakness - maybe even a crippling weakness - that persists and won't go away. But Paul sees an advantage in his weakness. Paul rightly refers to such results of prophetic witness as "a thorn in the flesh". It reminds him of his dependence on Christ. He of course never quits struggling to overcome his weakness, but he knows that the victory belongs not to him, but to Christ. Because of Christ he can say, "When I am weak, then I am strong." Like St. Paul all of us have weaknesses and needs, but in Christ we can together do great things. Along with our weaknesses, God has given each of us gifts to help one another. With St. Paul we too can say, "When I am weak, then I am strong." In Christ, together, we will do great things. In the First reading the prophet Ezekiel too has a thorn in the flesh. He is sent by God to proclaim a severe message to the people of Israel. This was the time of rebellion of the people of Israel against God. God had punished them by sending them into exile. Jerusalem was destroyed and the Temple was pulled down. Ezekiel the prophet also offers them hope. He tells them that if they are faithful to God in the strange land, Israel would be restored.
In the Gospel, Jesus would not be accepted in his own home town of Nazareth. There are many situations around the world where the Church's prophetic witness before certain regimes and dictatorships, has become a thorn in the flesh. We have many cases in which Church leaders have refused to compromise the principles of the Gospel and spoken the truth clearly, going as far as to suggest alternative ways of civil society for the benefit of all citizens, only to be ridiculed in the public media. In the Philippines, during the regime of President Marcos, Cardinal Sin refused to be silenced. Such is the "thorn in the flesh" of many of our pastors and the faithful today. Some have in the past been threatened with death because their uncomfortable witness. There is always the temptation, as in the case of St. Paul, to beg the Lord that such suffering be removed, so that we may work in peace. But the Lord will not remove these hardships or the persecutions we undergo. Instead Christ promises his grace and his presence as we carry out his purpose and mission. What message do we take home? 1) Like St. Paul, we too have our weakness, but if we unite in Christ we will have extraordinary power of witness. 2) The readings challenge us to rely on God's grace in our daily life as we offer our witness in our own life situations. 3) We must never quit our witness nor be afraid of threats or the unknown.
©2009 John M. Mbinda