14th Sunday – Year B (July 8th)
14th Sunday – Year B (July 8th)
Readings: Ezekiel 2:2-5
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
It is not always an easy thing, being selected to be the Lord’s messenger, as next Sunday’s readings tell us. In the first reading, we hear an account of the call of Ezekiel; he is to give a message to his compatriots, the Israelites in exile there in Babylon. For the moment, we notice, he (and we) are not told what the message will be, only, with vague prophetic menace, that it will be difficult: ‘Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to rebellious nations, who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have sinned against me’. And the prophet’s prospective audience is described, not very encouragingly, as ‘hard of face and obstinate of heart’. Nevertheless, ‘you shall say to them, “Thus says YHWH your God”.’ No hint of what God is saying, only the threat that ‘whether they listen or refuse, they are a rebellious house, and they will know that a prophet is in their midst’. Not much here to inspire the heart of a young prophet, you may think.
Despite that, the psalm displays a quiet and charming confidence. Paradoxically, that is because the singer is not aiming too high: ‘to you I have lifted up my eyes, you who dwell in the heavens’. He does not, however, address God as an equal: ‘look! As the eyes of slaves are on the hand of their lords, as the eyes of a maidservant on the hand of her lady’. This attentiveness enables the poet to call on God for help: ‘be gracious, YHWH, be gracious’, and now we learn the reason: ‘we are filled with [other people]’s contempt, and our souls are replete with the derision of the arrogant, the contempt of the haughty’.
This is not, you may feel, an enormously attractive prospect; but no one said it would be easy. In the second reading, Paul is trying to persuade the sceptical Corinthians of his credentials as an apostle. Reluctantly, he is driven to share with them something of his mystical experiences. He is however very careful not to display those experiences as campaign medals, about which he can boast (as the Corinthians were rather over-inclined to do). So Paul speaks to them of something given to him, ‘so that I should not get carried away’. He refers to it as ‘a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan’. Perhaps the Corinthians knew what he was talking about – it is certain that we do not, although that has not prevented scholars from trying their guesses, anything from epilepsy to sexual temptations to poor eyesight. Of interest to us is what Paul is told when asks the Lord to take it from him: ‘my grace is sufficient – for Power is made perfect in weakness’. So Paul makes a thing of it: ‘I shall boast all the more of my weakness, in order that Christ’s power may pitch its tent in me…for when I am weak, then I am powerful.’ All of us who are called to speak the word of God need to reflect on Paul’s experience here.
Or we might reflect instead on the experience of Jesus, which next Sunday’s gospel recounts, when he went home to Nazareth. There he teaches, local boy made good, and creates quite a stir: ‘where did he get these things from? And what’s this wisdom that has been given to him? And [what are] these huge miracles that happen through his agency?’ These questions are not, you may feel, entirely adulatory, as the hearers go on to list Jesus’ family connections: ‘son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon’, and Mark concludes, ‘they were affronted by him’. Jesus is only experiencing, of course, what God’s messengers have always experienced, as he comments ‘no prophet is dishonoured except in his own country and among his kinsfolk, and at home’. And the result? Failure – ‘he could not do a single miracle there; he only laid hands on a few and cured them’, which you might think was not too bad a result. We need to be clear, however: following Jesus will not be easy.