Sunday of Week 14 of Ordinary Time (Year B)

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

Jesus goes back to his hometown of Nazareth and he is accompanied by his disciples. As was the right of any devout Jew, he gave the homily in the synagogue on a Sabbath. The townspeople are amazed. They are astonished at the wisdom with which he speaks, and the power of the miracles they had heard he was performing.

They are even more amazed because they think they know who Jesus is. He is the carpenter, the son of Mary and Joseph, and they know all his relatives. They grew up with him. And because they think they know him, they refuse to accept him. They see the outward person, but they do not listen to the words he speaks. They knew him…they had made up their minds about him long ago.

So many people in our society have made up their minds about Jesus and presume that what they know is the whole story about him. And what they reject is often not the real Jesus, the Jesus of the Gospels, but some distortion that has found its way into their thinking. Bertrand Russell, the English philosopher, once wrote a book called Why I am not a Christian. Many Christians would say, after reading the book, that if Christianity was what Russell said it was, they would not be Christians either.

Dangers of familiarity
The townspeople do not hear Jesus’ message because they are blinded by the familiarity of the person. Their behavior is a perfect example of the saying “familiarity breeds contempt” – not just boredom, but actual contempt.

We are not much different from the people of Nazareth. The same thing happens to us all the time. God is constantly speaking to us through the people we know, through things that happen to us, through situations in which we find ourselves. Again and again we do not recognise his voice or hear his message because he is speaking through someone we know very well, or someone we do not like, or someone who is a total stranger or foreigner to us.

Because of the blindness of the people, we are told that Jesus was not able to do any of his great works in Nazareth. How often have we too blocked out God’s love and healing power because we refused to recognise him in a particular person or a situation? Yet, it was precisely through this person or experience he was trying to reach us.

Jesus now makes a sad comment on his townspeople:

Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown and among their own kin and in their own house.

While people in other places greeted Jesus with enthusiasm and hung on his every word, his own townspeople, even his own family, wrote him off; they treated him with cynicism.

A prophet’s lot is not a happy one
It is an experience all prophets must be ready for. A prophet is a person who has been commissioned to proclaim God’s message, to call people to accept God’s word and to urge them to change their lives and base them on truth and love.

Traditionally, prophets both in the Hebrew Testament and in the long history of Christianity have met with resistance, hostility and even violent deaths. We have a perfect example in the prophet Ezekiel, who speaks to us in the First Reading. He has been called to proclaim God’s message to his people. God does not promise him an easy time:

Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me…Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.

It is strange that messages urging truth, love, justice, freedom and peace arouse such opposition, hostility, hatred and violence. But it is happening all the time. In fact, in many parts of the world, words like ‘truth’, ‘justice’, ‘freedom’ are seen as dangerous and threatening. Strange as it may seem, there are people who do not want to hear them. And more Christians have died for their faith in these enlightened and civilised(?) times than in any other.

In the not too distant past, Martin Luther King, Jr. died for promoting the equality of all human beings irrespective of race. Mahatma Gandhi died because, as a Hindu, he was friendly with Muslims. Bishop Oscar Romero died because he denounced the exploitation of the poor. Dietrich Bonhoeffer died because he attacked the racist evils of Nazism. And the list could go on and on.

All called to be prophets
It is something each of us needs to remember. Every one of us, simply because of our baptism, has been called to be a prophet. We have all been called to spread the message of the Gospel in our families, in our working places, among our friends, in our society.

Whatever is happening, we have to be ready to proclaim and defend truth, love, justice, freedom and people’s rights and dignity. There are some things over which we cannot compromise; there are some times when we cannot keep silent.

There are times when we may be afraid, or when we feel incompetent or inadequate. We can take encouragement from Paul in the Second Reading today. He had some sort of very painful affliction which he felt prevented him from preaching the Gospel effectively and he begged God to take away his suffering. The answer to his prayer was surprising. He was told that God’s power working through him shone more in his weakness. Otherwise what he said and did might have been attributed to his own brilliance. So he now totally accepts all his weaknesses, because then Christ’s power and light shine more clearly through him. Paul says:

Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

That is the voice of a true prophet. He is the fragile “treasure in clay jars” (2 Cor 4:7).

So let us too not be discouraged by our shortcomings – whether spiritual, psychological, social or physical. God wants us to be his instrument. He will stand by us and give us what we need when we need it. But take note – when the Church and its message are accepted with open arms by any society, then we need to be suspicious about the genuineness of what we proclaim.

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