Whenever we are hit very hard by life’s unexpected tragedies or even by the repeated grind and drudgery of daily living, we might be tempted to disown our humanness, to consider it a painful burden from which we should, somehow, be relieved. The readings for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time offer us, instead, an opportunity to reflect on how our Church and our God feel about our human frailty and our human limitations. This is done very poignantly by the experience of three persons who are very remarkable not only for their greatness, but also for how they handled their humanness at its lowest ebb.
Ezekiel (Ez 2:2-5) is the first one: he is arguably the Old Testament prophet with the strongest personality. Self-confident to the point of relating God’s uncompromising message without being swept by the inevitable, negative, painful repercussions that it creates among the obstinate and rebellious in his audience. As we admire this man, we find out that such self-confidence could withstand the test of rejection, not on its own strength, but in the power of the Spirit. For the record, Ezekiel never hid his human limitations. Criticism, rejection, obstinate resistance to God’s grace on the part of the Israelites affected him deeply; yet he could stand because the Spirit stood him on his feet and kept him from falling.
St. Paul (2 Cor 12:7-10) is the second one: The whole Second Letter to the Corinthians is a candid revelation of the fragile setup of his sensitive and emotional personality. Mistakes and successes, longings and failures, dreams and cruel realism mix in a very existential way and make him an inspiration to all of us. Even as St. Paul bares his soul to us with candor and humility, we sense the greatness of his enthusiasm and love for Jesus living side by side with his embarrassing thorn in the flesh: perhaps a physical disability that made him feel inadequate, hesitant and constrained.
Finally, we have an “unusual” Jesus in the Gospel passage from Mark (6:1-6). We are accustomed to seeing him succeed in the way he teaches, the way he handles sticky situations and most of all how he handles the ravishing of evil through his healing power, his caring and his miracles. Today, instead, we see Jesus failing. Precisely at the time and the place where he is counting on support and acceptance, he finds criticism and rejection. When he is banking on warmth and closeness, he gets hit by humiliations and a threat to his very life. They are all harbingers of things to come.
But the message is clear for all of us who realize the awesome significance of being called in Baptism to be prophets, to be God’s mouthpieces preaching his message with words and deeds. Were we to embrace this call as prophets, our humanness would not be spared the very same or similar reactions from our audience than the reactions which Ezekiel, St. Paul and Jesus received from theirs. All our human limits would still be tested.
Actually, the hurts would be biting a bit more deeply. The rejection would be a bit more devastating; the criticism a bit more discouraging; the tears a bit more bitter because we would be convinced that we had signed up for the most noble of missions. This is bound to happen, as St. Paul learned from God himself, so that the people to whom we are sent may realize that, perhaps, we are still weaker, more frail, more scared than they are, yet most certainly invested by the supernatural power of the Spirit. Thus, both recipients and givers would, should agree that any result from this investiture comes exclusively from God’s grace.
Only whenever we show up powerless, distressed, curtailed by our inadequacy, burdened by our fears, people will be bound to realize that our convictions come straight from the God who has anointed us his spokespersons. So far in our life, we might have had our occasional, part-time, little stints as prophets, with mixed results. We might have mingled God’s message with some common sense, some prudent remarks, some conventional worldly wisdom and, of course, some nonsense, the result of our self-interest and pride. This time, though, let us find our inspiration in these three outstanding prophets. Let us not cave in to discouragement, nor let our fears get us down or become a rationalization for discontinuing our task, our mission.
We never leave Holy Mass without divine assistance. God decrees to come to us, to fill us from within with his own flesh and blood. The slogan we are what we eat, applies to Holy Communion more than to any other type of nourishment. When we consume Christ in the Eucharist, we become divine without losing our humanness with all its limitations. The flesh of our God keeps all the signs of the bread’s fragility, yet it can fill us with the same irresistible power that God possesses.
Anointed anew by his Spirit we shall bring the good news of our Christian living, our Christian love and service to our family, to our acquaintances, to our neighbors, among those whom we know and anyone else we might meet. Remember? We are all in the business of unleashing the Gospel 24/7! If the reception by our audience is cold, less than promising, or even worse, we meet with hostility, we shall consider their rejection as a divine justification that sets us free to move on to a different audience. However, we shall always be confident that our humanness, our frailty, our weaknesses are not an obstacle, but rather the eloquent sign that we are invested by the irresistible power of the God of love and mercy.
To him all the glory and praise forever and ever!