The three readings today speak of God sending faithful messengers to his people: Ezekiel, Paul and the Lord Jesus. We learn that being sent does not necessarily mean being accepted. Though we are weak and we find resistance intimidating, the Lord is faithful, so with his power at work in us, we too can be faithful to the will of the One who sends us.
In the first reading, Ezekiel hears the Lord telling him to go to the Israelites, who are “hard of face and obstinate of heart.” The Lord does not demand specific results from this mission, and does not assure him of success. The prophet’s job is simply to go and speak in the Lord’s name: “Thus says the LORD God!” Ezekiel humbly obeys; he is sent, and he goes. No matter what the response of the Israelites, “whether they heed or resist,” they will know that a prophet has been among them. There is no chance for them to excuse future defiance with the statement that “we didn’t know.” We learn from Ezekiel the importance of obedience to God, without concern for acceptance or success.
Jesus is far greater than any prophet. He is the Son of God, sent to reveal the Father and call everyone into his Kingdom. But even Jesus must face the problem of stubborn resistance. In today’s Gospel account, he returns to his hometown of Nazareth. The townspeople are astonished. They recognize that he speaks with great wisdom, far beyond his level of education; and they note that “mighty deeds are wrought by his hands” – miracles that were clearly not merely human in origin. Even so, they take offense that this hometown boy is the one doing the mighty deeds. He is not acting according to their expectations. After all, he is just a carpenter, and we know his relatives. Again, just as with Ezekiel, the Lord has sent someone to his people, and they can never claim that there was not a prophet among them. They will be responsible for their response. No blaming; no excuses.
It seems that Jesus’ old neighbors are as “hard of face and obstinate of heart” as their ancestors were. They can see with their own eyes that he is more than they expected, but they reject what they see. Even when he cures sick people by laying his hands on them, they are not convinced. This reveals their real problem: they are refusing to accept reality. To be set in one’s belief system, despite all evidence to the contrary, is to be delusional. When we twist the truth to make it fit our own preconceived ideas, we only cut ourselves off from God and his saving power. Jesus is the ultimate reality. The “realness” of everything else is measured in relation to him. Before him, our delusions, our personal twisting of the truth, must be surrendered. We can be astonished or bewildered by the Lord, who often does what we do not expect, but we are never right to harden our hearts against him.
In contrast to the resistance of the Nazarenes, the Responsorial Psalm describes the response of humble people of faith, those who keep their eyes fixed on the Lord, no matter how others might react. The psalmist teaches us to focus on the Lord, just as “the eyes of servants are on the hands of their masters.” Communication from a master to an attentive servant is simple; a mere hand gesture is enough. The servant does his assigned tasks without worrying about what the master’s business is with everything else on the estate. Even when we must face resistance from others, “the mockery of the arrogant” and the “contempt of the proud,” and even when our own nature rises up in fear or resistance, we are to keep our eyes fixed on the Lord Jesus, “pleading for his mercy.”
This is the approach of St. Paul, whose humility and simplicity shine forth in his Letter to the Corinthians. Paul is suffering from an unspecified affliction he calls “a thorn in the flesh.” He has begged the Lord for relief, but the Lord tells him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” This is an unexpected answer! Paul, a humble servant, accepts it and puts his trust in the Lord. He does not reject reality or cling to any delusions about himself. He relies on the Lord, keeping his eyes fixed on his Master’s hands. This gives Paul the freedom to be “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints.” These painful, difficult issues – his own weaknesses and the suffering that comes from the resistance of others – no longer trouble him. “When I am weak, then I am strong.” This is a precious lesson for every servant of the Lord. His grace is sufficient for us. In ourselves we are weak; in the Lord we are strong!
How can I remain faithful to the Lord in the everyday events of my life? In what ways do I stubbornly resist my call? When do I twist the truth to suit my own preconceived ideas?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 14, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.