Readings: Ezekiel 2:2-5; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6
A pain in the neck and a thorn in the flesh are the two phrases that help to capture the central message of this Sunday. The readings lead us head on to prophetic witness that can be accompanied by obstacles and challenges. Indeed we are ordinary people charged with an extraordinary mission to give a tough message that may not be acceptable by many. That is prophetic witness. Ezekiel in the first reading and Paul in the second reading are sent on such a mission. While Paul compares the obstacles in his Corinthian community to a “thorn in the flesh”, the Gospel gives us a concrete example of Jesus Himself, being rejected in his own hometown. We ordinary people are reminded that we have the same extraordinary mission to stand for the truth in the face of risking rejection, ridicule, hatred and opposition. Perhaps there was someone who was a pain in the neck in Paul’s ministry. Whatever it was, Paul sees an advantage in that weakness and refers to it as "a thorn in the flesh". It reminds him of dependence on Christ. Because of Christ Paul can say, "For when I am weak, then I am strong." The grace of God is well able to transform weakness into strength and rejection into acceptance. Even when our weakness is real, God has an incredible possibility for each of us. I am reminded of the story of Blessed Oscar Romero, former Archbishop of San Salvador. On March 24, 1980, he was assassinated for challenging the military to stop killing their own people. He was a pain in the neck and a thorn in the flesh. He was too much for the military and the only solution was to silence him with a bullet as he celebrated Mass. His death led to the birth of a new nation.
I tell this story because in the Gospel, Jesus is rejected in his own home town of Nazareth. What happens is a story of resilience. He moves on focused on his mission that will take him all the way to the Cross. Being rejected may be discouraging, but we need to see the flip side as an opportunity. Jesus was a thorn in the flesh of the people in Nazareth and Jewish religious leaders. The Church today is a thorn in the flesh for civil authorities. When the Church dares to articulate its teaching on moral ethical issues, it will be ridiculed in the public media. Pope Francis just issued an Encyclical on the Care of our Common Home. While many have welcomed this historic document, it becomes a perfect example of prophetic witness and a thorn in the flesh for some civil authorities. As expected, the pope has been criticized by the media and some politicians. Some Catholic politicians have gone as far as to tell the pope to stay out of politics. These challenges are part the battle that must be won as part of the Church’s extraordinary mission. Christ promises his grace and his presence as we fight this war. “If God is for us, who can be against us.” So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Like St. Paul, we must see obstacles as opportunities to overcome in order to reach our extraordinary mission by being the best version of ourselves. 2) Like Blessed Oscar Romero in the story, our faithful witness can be instrumental in transforming people. 3) As disciples and stewards we must never quit our extraordinary mission nor be intimidated by threats, even if we have to die for the truth.
©2015 John S. Mbinda