Thursday, July 5, 2018

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Ezekiel 2:2-5; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6

Prophetic witness, ministry with challenges, a thorn in the flesh; for “when I am weak, then I am strong.” The readings of this Sunday invite us to reflect on our calling to ministry; our calling to prophetic witness. While St. Paul compares his calling and ministry to a thorn in the flesh, the Gospel gives us a concrete example of Jesus who is rejected in his own hometown. We are reminded that the exercise of ministry is not always respected in the world. You and I are called to stand for the truth, but that too involves the risk being ridiculed, rejected, hated or persecuted. St. Paul in the second reading speaks about having a thorn in his flesh. We don't know what the thorn was, but perhaps it was some physical weakness. Paul sees an advantage in that weakness and refers to it as "a thorn in the flesh". It reminds him of 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 in ministry, 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 by the people of Israel against God. God had punished them by sending them into exile. Jerusalem was destroyed and the Temple pulled down. Ezekiel the prophet also offers them hope, telling them that if they are faithful to God in exile, Israel would be restored.

In the Gospel, Jesus is rejected 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. Such is the "thorn in the flesh" of many of our pastors and the faithful today in some parts of the world. Some have in the past been imprisoned and others threatened with death because of 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 challenges. Instead, Christ promises his grace and his presence as we carry out his purpose and mission in ministry. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 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 intimidated by threats.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

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