Friday, July 3, 2015

The rejection of ministry

Ezekiel 2:2-5;  2 Corinthians 12:7-10;  Mark 6:1-6

Would you like to have been Ezekiel? 

He was given a wonderful vision of the glory of God, but he must have really felt let-down when the same God gave him an unpleasant, nearly impossible ministry, which is we read about in today’s first reading.

He was to tell his own people that because they were unfaithful to the Lord, their beloved temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed. I guess the people could hardly be blamed for not being receptive! Poor old Ezekiel! He knew the hardness of their hearts, yet the Lord asked him to speak the truth in love and concern for them. And he paid dearly for this.

Afterwards, of course, Ezekiel’s words would be remembered, and they would help those who returned to Jerusalem to understand what had happened.

The great apostle Paul was called to proclaim the Gospel from the time of his conversion to Christ. Today’s second reading 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. To cap things off, a number of false apostles and prophets were challenging Paul’s authority, boasting about their superior revelations, their powerful preaching, and the miracles they performed. Many of the people were influenced by them, and there was a serious fracturing of  the unity of the Body of Christ in that place.

For the sake of the Corinthian Christians Paul decides to defend himself and his apostolic ministry. But rather than meeting his opponents on their ground, or - for that matter - despairing of the situation, he speaks from a position of real humility. He says that all he can do is boast of his weaknesses, knowing that God would give him supernatural grace to be strong.

What does this mean? Some commentators think that the “thorn in the flesh” Paul struggled with throughout his ministry was a sense of rejection, perhaps even reflecting the reluctance of the earliest Christians to believe that his conversion was real. Be that as it may, in this passage he manages to regard real rejection as a "gift" to keep him aware of his weakness, to keep him relying not on any cleverness, oratory, ability he might have as a speaker or even as a miracle worker, but only on Jesus whose grace, “is sufficient.” In his weakness Paul has learned to depend only on the strength given him by the Lord. And that’s as it should be, because for Paul - as for us - the ministry is not about him but about Jesus!

In today’s Gospel, Jesus returns to his home town, Nazareth. The people begin by being amazed at his teaching, but then become 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.

Have you ever noticed that one of the themes running through Mark’s Gospel is the rejection of Jesus’ ministry? Indeed, Mark’s Gospel, in this respect, might well be a commentary on Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and rejected by men.”

Jesus yearned 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! His cry is at its most poignant in Matthew 23:37:  “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!” 

All who try to bear witness to Jesus in day to day life will experience the pain of rejection. Sometimes it is our fault for not being loving enough to those around us, or for being judgmental towards them. But sometimes it is for the same reason that Jesus himself was rejected . . . that people just don't want to be reminded of their desperate need for God and his love.

This is also experienced by church communities as a whole at different times and in different places. But, like Ezekiel, like Paul, and like Jesus himself, we are called to glorify the Father by being faithful, even when we don't succeed.   


Alice C. Linsley said...

A good message, Father. A good reminder of what we are about. Rejection is hard, and we have come to expect it. How to live like that and still be joyful is the challenge.

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