God's power makes us strong in our weakness

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  • June 26, 2009
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) July 5 (Ezekiel 2:2-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6)

Who is this nation of impudent and stubborn rebels? In its original context it referred to Israel, for Ezekiel is being empowered and sent to bring his nation back to the ways of God. But in a much broader sense it describes any nation, including our own, for the Israelites were no more rebellious and wayward than people of our own day.

Rebellion can exist even among people who consider themselves quite pious and religious. It can be described as continuing to do things our own way instead of according to the will of God. Rebellion can take many different forms: economic injustice and inequality is one of the prime examples and the one most often singled out and denounced by Israel’s prophets. But there are many others too: competitiveness and lust for power, despoiling of the environment or holding those who are different in contempt. A long-time favourite has been not only the toleration but the glorification of violence and war — and often with theological justifications. These are all ways in which we turn our backs on God and walk in the hardness of our own hearts even while mouthing the divine name.

Prophets we have certainly had — and will continue to have — but they do not have an easy task. When they challenge us, many respond in a typically human fashion — with defensiveness and denial. They attack, and sometimes even kill, the messenger. We are being challenged on many fronts: prejudice of all kinds, war and peace, ecology, human rights and equality. On the theological front, the experience of our time challenges us to be more inclusive in our theology and transparent in our church governance.

Sometimes weaknesses and difficulties are meant to be. Some we can overcome but often we must learn to live with them. Our own culture teaches us that any sort of pain or inconvenience is unacceptable and must be eliminated as quickly as possible. That might have been Paul’s initial reaction when he began to struggle with his “thorn in the flesh.” We have no idea what that thorn was, and much ink has been spilled in attempts to guess. But it doesn’t matter — it could have been anything — even what we struggle with. It played an important role: it prevented Paul from succumbing to an inflated ego over his mystical gifts. It also reminded him constantly of how much he depended on God’s grace. God’s power is indeed made perfect in weakness, but only when that weakness is acknowledged and surrendered to God. When we are weak we are indeed strong but only if we relinquish control and allow the power of God to work in and through us.

There is an old saying that “familiarity breeds contempt.” Sometimes we find it difficult to respect the wisdom, intelligence or spirituality of those with whom we are the most familiar — friends, family or colleagues. After all, we know their weaknesses and perhaps we may even have seen them at their worst. We want to hear from someone who fits our mental image of a prophet, guru, sage or holy person. Jesus — well, they knew Him and they knew His family. How can your neighbour be a prophet of God? They were offended — in their view Jesus clearly had pretensions to glory — and He had clearly overreached His station in life. There were many in the crowd who were not really listening to His words with their hearts. “Hardened hearts” — a defensive, closed mind and a refusal to understand on a deeper level tied Jesus’ hands. He was unable to really do much in the way of deeds of spiritual power.

Our own lack of openness or acceptance can also limit the power that God can manifest on our behalf. We often fail to honour the prophets and teachers in our midst. If we close our eyes and listen with our hearts rather than our fear we would not miss the word of God when it is spoken. God speaks through the ordinary — our experiences, the people around us and even through us.

Let us not close our minds and hearts out of stubbornness and rebelliousness but surrender our weakness and fear to God.

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