Sunday Scripture: Strength in weakness
July 6, 2012
By Terrance Callan
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Ezekiel 2:2-5; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6
Spontaneously we do everything we can to avoid failure and rejection. However, Christian faith challenges us to accept these inevitable experiences and see them as part of God’s presence in our lives.
The reading from the Gospel according to Mark narrates what happened when Jesus visited His own country. When He taught in the synagogue there, the people did not accept Him because they knew Him and His family. It was hard to believe that someone they had known all His life could be anything special. And because of their lack of faith, Jesus “was not able to perform any mighty deed there.” Jesus interpreted their rejection of Him as the response a prophet always receives in His own country: “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place….” Outside of His own country Jesus met with greater acceptance, but He also experienced rejection there. The rejection of Jesus in his own country foreshadows the final rejection that led to his crucifixion.
The reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel is part of the story of Ezekiel’s call to be a prophet. God sent Ezekiel as a prophet to the people of Israel, calling them “a rebellious house.” Though some of them will heed his message, others will resist it. Thus Ezekiel, like Jesus, exemplifies the rejection that all prophets experience.
The reading from St. Paul’s second Letter to the Corinthians explains how it makes sense that prophets and other messengers of God encounter rejection. Paul, an apostle rather than a prophet, speaks of the difficulties of his own vocation. He says that he was given a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from becoming conceited. Paul seems to suppose that if those who act in the name of God experienced only success, they might make the mistake of attributing the success to themselves rather than to God. Failure helps them not to think too highly of themselves.
However, Paul’s explanation of the place of failure in the ministry of the prophet and apostle goes even deeper. Not only does failure help the prophet or apostle to avoid conceit; in a mysterious way, what we consider failure is essential to the accomplishment of God’s purposes. Paul says that he asked the Lord three times to free him from the thorn in the flesh. In reply the Lord said to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Because of this Paul says that he is “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Paul does not explain, and perhaps could not explain, exactly how God’s power and success are found within our failure and weakness. But he is undoubtedly thinking of the death and resurrection of Jesus as providing the key to God’s way of doing things. Somehow God’s salvation of the world was accomplished by what seems to us to have been the humiliation and defeat that Jesus suffered on the cross. For Paul being a Christian means incorporation into the body of Christ. The follower of Jesus is caught up into the same divine action we see in Jesus.
Callan is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.