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Reflections for the XIV Sunday of the year

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for the fourteenth Sunday in ordinary time. He says that the readings challenge us to face rejection and hardship with prophetic courage.

Ez 2:2-5; II Cor 12:7-10; Mk 6:1-6

Homily starter anecdote: Don’t allow rejection to derail your dreams: The annals of human history are replete with case after case of good people being rejected by those who knew them best. Albert Einstein, (German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics), did not speak until he was four and could not read until age nine. He was described by his schoolmaster as, “mentally slow, unsociable and adrift in his foolish dreams. “He had to be home-schooled by his mother. The American inventor and businessman Thomas Alva Edison’s teachers advised his parents to keep him home from school, stating that he was “too stupid to learn anything.” In his autobiography, Charles Darwin (an English naturalist, geologist and biologist, best known for his contributions to the science of evolution) wrote, “I was considered by all my masters and my father, a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard in intellect.” Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor who complained that he was lacking in creative ideas. G.K. Chesterton, the famous British poet, philosopher, orator, journalist and brilliant theologian could not read until he was eight years old. A teacher said if his head were opened they would probably find a lump of fat where there was supposed to be a brain. Beethoven (a German composer and the predominant pianist and musical figure in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras), for example, had a rather awkward playing style and preferred to work at his own compositions rather than play the classical artists of his day. Disapproving of his technique, his teacher called him “hopeless as a composer.” Socrates (a classical Greek philosopher credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, and as being the first moral philosopher, of the Western ethical tradition of thought) was written off as “an immoral corruptor of youth.” Obviously, all of these people lived to contradict their naysayers and so excelled in their respective fields as to become a surprise to those who thought they knew them. So also, Jesus. So also, Paul. So also, Ezekiel. Each of the readings for today’s liturgy challenges the human propensity for labeling and limiting and invites believers to begin to look at God, the world and one another with more open eyes and more receptive hearts. Today’s Gospel tells us how Jesus encountered rejection with prophetic courage. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/ adapted from Sanchez files and modified).

Introduction:  Today’s readings introduce Jesus as a prophet and explain how prophets and other messengers from God inevitably suffer rejection. The readings challenge us to face rejection and hardship with prophetic courage.

Scripture lessons summarized:  The first reading, taken from the book of the prophet Ezekiel, tells us about his call from God to be a prophet. Yahweh warns Ezekiel that he is being sent to obstinate and rebellious Israelites in exile in Babylon. Hence, as God’s prophet, he will have to face rejection and persecution for giving God’s message. The reading gives us the warning that, as Christians who accept the call of Jesus and seek to follow him, we also may face indifference and hostility, contempt and scorn, weakness, hardship and persecution, insults and rejection.  In the second reading, St. Paul gives us the same warning from his experience that not only the prophets, but the apostles and missionaries also, will have to encounter hardships and rejection in their preaching mission. Paul confesses that God has given him a share in Christ’s suffering – a chronic illness which causes him pain, a “thorn in the flesh" –  so that he may rely on God’s grace and may glory in the power of a strengthening God.  Paul invites us to rise above our own weakness and disability, cooperate with the grace of God and preach the word of God by word and example as the apostle did.  Today's Gospel passage, (Mark 6:1-6), shows how many people of Jesus' hometown Nazareth did not accept him as a prophet because they “knew” him and his family. They knew that he was a carpenter with no schooling in Mosaic Law and that he could not be the promised Messiah who would come from Bethlehem as a descendant of David’s royal family. Besides, they were angry when Jesus did not work any miracles in Nazareth, chided them with prophetic courage for their lack of Faith and warned that he would go to other people to do his preaching and healing ministry. 

First reading, Ezekiel 2:2-5, explained: Today's reading from Ezekiel captures the same experience in the career of the prophet Ezekiel, who lived about 600 years before Jesus. Ezekiel is warned by God that, though he has been called by Yahweh and sent with a message to the people of Israel, they will almost certainly refuse to hear and accept his message. God is angry about the rebelliousness of the people to whom He is sending His prophet. Ezekiel was the first person called to become a prophet while the people were in Exile in Babylon. While the false prophets were consoling people, saying that the Exile was soon to end, and they'd be going home to a newly prosperous Jerusalem soon, Ezekiel resolutely foretold the further destruction of Jerusalem. No wonder he was hated and rejected by the people! Those who accept the call of God and seek to follow Him may face indifference and hostility, contempt and scorn, weakness, hardship and persecution, insults and rejection. 

Second Reading, 2 Cor 12:7-10, explained: In today’s selection, Paul frankly admits the fact he had learned by trial and error, that he couldn't preach the Gospel on the basis of his own strength and talent. Rather, the weaker he became, the more room he left for the Spirit of God to work through him. In the midst of a conflict with the Corinthian Christian community, Paul tells about two of his deepest spiritual experiences. In one he had an ecstatic theophany when he received an exceptional revelation. In the other, he fervently prayed to have the unidentified cause of great suffering removed but was given instead the reassurance that God's grace would be sufficient for his every need. Paul’s opponents within the Corinthian community presumed that an authentic apostle would be vindicated by Heavenly visitation and a miraculous healing. Instead, Paul discovered positive value in his pain. He understood that suffering, accepted as God’s gift, produces patience, sensitivity and compassion and a genuine appreciation of life's blessings. Hence, Paul declares that the weaknesses which continue to mark his life as an apostle represent the effective working of the power of the crucified Christ in his ministry.  Paul was content with weaknesses and hardships for the sake of Christ; we, too, find God’s grace sufficient for our needs, for Christ’s power dwells in us in our weakness, and in weakness we are truly strong.

Gospel Exegesis: The context: It was natural that Jesus should visit his hometown, Nazareth, as a rabbi with a band of his disciples. On the Sabbath day, he went to the local synagogue. In the synagogue there was no definite person to give the address. Any distinguished stranger present who had a message to give might be asked by the ruler of the synagogue to speak. Since Jesus’ fame as a preacher and miracle worker in other places of Galilee had reached Nazareth, he was invited to read from the Prophets and explain the text. During his “Inaugural Address” or “Mission Statement,” Jesus took upon himself the identity of a prophet, different from the image of a miracle worker that people wished to see.  As other faithful prophets of Israel had done, Jesus, too, held people accountable for their selfishness, their faithlessness to God, and their lack of justice and mercy (Mi 6:6-8), and their sinfulness.  

The adverse reaction: The first reaction of the people in the synagogue to Jesus' words was one of astonishment. Luke says they were "amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips." But Mark says that they asked one another: “Where did this man get all this? They knew him only as a carpenter from a poor family, with no formal training in Mosaic Law. Certainly, they thought he had gone far beyond what one of his status as a humble carpenter should go. (One of the dreams of Martin Luther King was that people "would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character"). Jesus’ neighbors did not expect him, “the carpenter’s son,” to be skilled in interpreting the Scriptures.  They also could not understand how a mere carpenter could be their political Messiah who would liberate them from Roman rule and reestablish the Davidic kingdom of power and glory. The local townsfolk also objected that Jesus had no distinguished lineage. He is identified as “the son of Mary” (v. 3) rather than the traditional “son of Joseph” (“Bar Joseph”) title. Such a reference could be seen as an insult because men in that culture were identified by who their fathers were (see John 1:45). Jesus responded: “No prophet is accepted in his native place.” Those who accept the call of God and seek to follow Him may face indifference and hostility, contempt and scorn, weakness, hardship and persecution, insults and rejection.

Life messages: 1) Let us face rejection with prophetic courage and optimism. The story of Jesus' rejection in his own town is a story that we can identify with, because it is a story that has happened to most of us. We might have experienced the pain of rejection caused by hurts, wounds, betrayal, divorce, abandonment, violated trust, trauma, neglect or various forms of abuse. What about rejection by those closest to us? Often our friends, families, or childhood companions fail to listen to, and refuse to accept, the words of grace, love and encouragement that we offer to them, because they are too familiar with us.  Hence, they are unable to see us as God's appointed instruments, the agents of God's healing and saving grace. Let us check also the other side of the coin. How often do we discount God’s agents through prejudice?  How often do we fail to see God’s image in them because of our own hardheartedness?  We must realize that God's power is always available to transform even the most unlikely people.

2) We need to handle rejection in the right spirit: a) We can handle rejection with respect – respect for ourselves and respect for others. Our first reaction to rejection is often anger – anger at ourselves for assuming we deserve what we got and bitterness toward others who perpetuate the rejection. In the face of rejection, we will be wise to follow the advice of St. Paul who said, “Be angry and sin not. Let not the sun go down on your anger.” b) We need to avoid self-defeating assumptions. One rejection need not be an indictment on one’s life. Rejection is not synonymous with continuous failure. c) We need to avoid magnifying the rejection. Rejection need not be a forecast of our future, and it must not become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Rejection in the past need not be a predictor of rejection in the future. d) We need to avoid allowing rejection to derail our dreams and instead to keep coming back. e) We need to learn from our rejections. We are not perfect, and we do not always get it right, but we need to keep coming back until we do get it right. Every rejection can be a lesson if we stay open to new possibilities and new opportunities. What can I do differently? How can I improve? What needs can I meet? These are the questions we need to ask if we are to prevent a trouble from going to waste.

3)  Let us acknowledge the prophets of God’s goodness in our midst. God is present giving us his message through our nearest and dearest and our neighbors and coworkers. Since God uses them as His prophets to convey His message to us, it is our duty to acknowledge and honor them. Let us express our appreciation today for our families – spouses for each other, parents and children for each other.  A word of appreciation for the lady who cooks the dinner, for the neighbor who is always ready to share our happiness and sorrow, for the friends who have given us time, support and attention during a recent bereavement or a tragedy in our life – all are our proper responses to God’s messengers of love and light. Let us not take for granted the presence of God among us as evidenced by the goodness shown by family and friends. Let us also recognize God’s direction, help and support in our lives through His words in the Bible and through the advice and examples of others.

4) We must have the prophetic courage of our convictions.  By our Baptism, God   calls us to be prophets like Jesus, sharing his prophetic mission.  The task of a prophet is to speak God’s truth.   We must never be afraid of this call.   We may rely on   Jesus to supply us with the courage to oppose the many evils in our society.  By legalizing abortion in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed the killing of over thirty million unborn children in forty-five years, and it is tolerating the brutal execution of 4400 defenseless lives every day by abortion.  Our television and movie conglomerates, which are supported by the tax money of millions of citizens, systematically poison the minds of the young as well as the old by the excessive importance given to perverted sex and unnecessary violence. Many well-known corporate sponsors support more than 75,000 U. S. websites of pornographic material, thus enabling the destructive behavior of perverts and sex abusers.  Our society tells youngsters that promiscuous sex, drugs and alcohol are means by which they can express their individuality.   It is here that our country needs Christians with the prophetic courage of their convictions to fight against such moral evils.

5) We need to speak the truth of Christ with love, never being hypocritical or disrespectful.  We must never remain silent in the face of evil for fear of being thought "politically incorrect."   Jesus was not against conflict if it promoted truth. He taught us to give respect and freedom without condoning or encouraging sinful behavior. Love does not tolerate destructive behavior but, nevertheless, it sometimes causes pain--just as a surgeon must sometimes hurt in order to heal. We can be kind, charitable, and honest and forgiving as we speak forth our own convictions as Jesus did in the synagogue. (Fr. Antony Kadavil)

05 July 2018, 11:16