FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B – July 8, 2018

 

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel 2:2-5
A reading from the second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 12:7-10
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 6:1-6

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

Prophecy is one of the gifts or charisms of the Spirit, that according to St. Paul.  The recipient is one God appoints to speak what God wants the people to hear.  We tend to think of a prophet as one who can foretell events, a seer, so to speak.  Sometimes foretelling is an aspect of prophesying, but usually in terms of the consequences that will follow should the message not be heeded.

There is not a prophet who welcomed the charism.  Most of them were reluctant prophets who yielded to God’s call only after pleading their inadequacy for one reason or another.  Often they protested because they knew how other prophets had suffered.  They hesitated because they could see the message would be rejected.  Sometimes they prayed to be left alone so that they could go on with their lives as they were living them.  But God persists until the reluctant prophet accepts and goes forth.

We hear Ezekiel, in the first reading, speak of his calling.  The spirit enters him and sets him on his feet.  It becomes clear that Ezekiel is being sent to the Israelites who have turned their backs on the Covenant.  His intended audience will not be easy or receptive.  The only assurance Ezekiel has is that the power of his message will convince his hearers that a prophet has been in their midst.  That does not mean they will heed the message and so change their ways.  The fact of the matter is that it is only in retrospect that a prophet’s authenticity is confirmed as the people remember what he said and see the fruit, or lack there of, at work in their lives.  Then they will lament: If only we had listened.

Jesus is an eager prophet.  Every word and every action is said or done in response to the will of the One who sent him.  Over the last several weeks we have caught glimpses of his power in calming the storm – even the wind and the waves obey him.  A woman had hemorrhaged for 12 years, and in a moment of faith, she touched the hem of his garment and was healed.  A 12-year-old girl died, only to be awakened by Jesus’ gentle touch and invitation: Talitha koum.  She obeyed him.

Crowds gather wherever Jesus goes, hang on his every word, and wonder.  They show astonishment in response to spectacular events.  In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus returns to Nazareth, to his hometown, to family and friends.  As he did at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus on the Sabbath, enters the synagogue and begins to teach, begins to prophesy.  The audience is stunned, even astonished by what they hear.  Hear, perhaps, is not the right word, because they do not receive the message.  Knowing Jesus and his origins, his family, gets in the way.  Jesus is a carpenter, after all.  They know his mother.  They remember the boy, having watched him grow up.  They know his relatives, ordinary people all.  Even though they have heard of the miracles and marveled at the accounts, they are offended by what they perceive to be pretentiousness.

A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.  Jesus said that and struggled.  It is clear that he had things in mind to accomplish there, great deeds similar to those he had performed elsewhere, deeds that could be vehicles for the Nazarenes to experience God’s love that comes through Jesus.  But in order for those deeds to happen, there must be faith.  Jesus must be heard and believed.  Mark tells us that a few sick people were cured by his touch.  The implication is that so much more could have happened if only….  And Jesus is amazed at their lack of faith.

Each time we sit beneath the Word, we have the opportunity to listen.  But do we hear?  Does the Word proclaimed penetrate and lodge in our hearts?  That depends on how radical are the changes in our lives Jesus’ message seems to demand.  Our excuse for not responding cannot be because we knew him in his formative years.  But it might be because we knew him in our own.  By that I mean that by now these proclamations are twice told tales.  We have heard them before, even often by this telling.  Along the way we have adapted what we have heard and concluded that surely he did not mean what we first heard.  Take those calls to poverty for example, or the commandment to love even the enemy.  Surely, given these times in which we live, Jesus didn’t mean that to be taken seriously in those prophetic remarks.  So we accommodate.  And those accommodations that we make dull the message and get in the way of the conversion Jesus longs to see.  Is it not amazing how understandable we find our greed, our sexism, our racism, how understandable our own sins are?  Surely Jesus was not addressing those.  Was he?  How much of that response is attributable to our lack of faith?

Here is something to think and pray about.  Did you ever wonder if you were called to be a prophet?  Do not be too hasty to protest and deny.  Remember, you were baptized.  That means that in the Waters you died to sin and put on Christ, called to live that life forever.  The Spirit entered you.  God’s love enveloped you.  As you came out of the Waters, the heavens opened and the voice of God was heard: This is my beloved one in whom I take great delight.  Listen.  With your Baptism came priesthood as you began to live one with a priestly people.  Do you believe this?  Imagine what would happen if we did!

There have been those among us who did take their Baptism, their call to be prophetic, seriously.  We call them saints.  Unfortunately, calling them saints can turn them into icons and make them distant.  We might miss that it was because they took their relationship with Christ seriously that they dealt so forcefully with the contemporary foes of the Good News they encountered.  Mother Teresa.  Dorothy Day.  Thomas Merton.  Dr. Tom Dooley.  Archbishop Oscar Romero.  The Ugandan Martyrs.  These were ordinary people all who did extraordinary things because they took the Gospel seriously.  They became prophets.  They were heard.  Some even more so after they were killed for their prophesying.  Those we call martyrs.

Some would say that Pope Francis is a Prophet for our times.  He urges us to be who we say we are, imitators of Jesus.  Be a poorer church, serving the needs of the poor.  Shepherd in the midst of the sheep and smell like them.  Recognize the dignity and worth of all God’s people.  Why were many shocked when he told a gay man that God made him the way he is and loves him as he is?  What is the significance of the Bishop of Rome kneeling and washing the feet of young Muslim prisoners?  What should we take from his inviting in street people to breakfast with him?  

And there are some who say, in effect, How dare he!

What we sometimes forget is, it is the living of the Gospel, loving as Jesus loved, and serving as Jesus served, that gives the message its power.  You are called to be that prophet now, where you live, in your own neighborhood.  What if we believed it and meant it when we said, Speak, Lord, your servant is listening?  And then acted on what we heard?

So we gather about the Table as a priestly people to give thanks in the celebration of the Eucharist, giving thanks to God as we renew Jesus’ dying and rising in Bread and wine.  Take and eat.  Take and drink.  Then be sent to be Christ’s continuing presence until all know and believe they are the beloved of God.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

 

Didymus 

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