Sunday, July 8, 2012


How would you like to have been Ezekiel? He'd had a breathtaking, truly wonderful, vision of the glory of God. Imagine how he felt when the same God gave him an unpleasant, nearly impossible ministry, which is vividly described in today’s first reading (Ezekiel 2:2-5). 

His task was to tell the people that because they were unfaithful to the Lord, their beloved temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed. I suppose his hearers could hardly be blamed for being unreceptive. 

Poor old Ezekiel! He knew the hardness of their hearts. The Lord told him IN ADVANCE that they would reject his ministry, yet still required him to speak the truth in love. How Ezekiel must have suffered. It's not difficult to imagine the emotional, psychological and spiritual pain he embraced in order to fulfil his vocation when faithfulness was never going to bring "success." 

(Of course, that's not the whole story . . . Ezekiel’s words would be remembered and help those who eventually returned to Jerusalem to understand God's ways. They would also provide some of the most startling imagery for Jewish and Christian preachers for the following 2,600 years.) 

The apostle Paul was called to preach the Gospel right from the time of his conversion to Christ. Today’s second reading (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) is part of what he wrote to the church community he had founded in Corinth. That group was in a real mess in so many areas of life. 

In this instance, a number of false apostles and prophets had been challenging St Paul’s authority, boasting about their superior revelations, their powerful preaching, and the miracles they performed. Many of the people were influenced by them, resulting in a serious fracturing of unity. 

For their sake St Paul defended himself and his apostolic ministry. But rather than meeting his opponents on their ground, or - for that matter - despairing of the situation, he wrote to them in real humility. He said that all he could do is “boast of my weaknesses,” knowing that God's grace would enable him to get through. 

Some scholars suggest that the “thorn in the flesh” St Paul struggled with throughout his ministry was a sense of rejection, going right back to the reluctance of the Christians to believe that his conversion was genuine. If that is the case, then in this passage he spoke of real rejection as a gift to keep him aware of his weakness, so that he relies not on any cleverness, oratory, ability as a speaker or as a miracle worker, but only on Jesus whose grace, “is sufficient.” 

In his weakness St Paul has learned to depend on the strength given him by the Lord. And that’s as it should be, because for St Paul - as for us - the ministry is not about him but about Jesus. 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus came to his home town of Nazareth. The people began by being amazed at his teaching, but then became suspicious. How could such wisdom and power come from this “nobody” we grew up with? It says that they “took offence at him,” and rejected his ministry. 

One of the themes running right through St Mark’s Gospel is the rejection of Jesus’ ministry. In this respect, Mark's Gospel might well be seen as a commentary on Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and rejected by men.” 

Jesus wanted to do for his people what they could not do for themselves. He wanted to make their lives worth living, to touch them with his love and healing. He wanted to get them to heaven, and get heaven into them. But so often he was rejected. 

In Matthew's Gospel we hear him saying: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Matthew 23:37) 

All who try to bear witness to Jesus in day to day life will experience the same pain of rejection. 

Sometimes people reject the Gospel of God's love because WE are not channels of God's love, and there is nothing about our lives or our parish communities to convince them that what we say about the Lord is real. It is our fault. 

But there are other times when the Gospel is rejected for the same reason that Jesus himself was rejected . . . people don’t want to be reminded of their incompleteness, of their desperate need for God and his love, and they naturally want to hang onto the reins of their own lives. 

Clergy and lay people are called - like Ezekiel, like St Paul, and like Jesus himself - to be faithful and loving . . . because, actually, there are always SOME who will respond to the Lord's love, sooner or later.


Alice C. Linsley said...

Wow! A powerful message and one I needed to hear. Thank you, dear Bishop Chislett.

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