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JULY 8, 2012: FOURTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

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

Those who expect God to work mighty deeds in mighty ways on their behalf shouldn't listen to today's readings. Our three sacred authors aren't familiar with that kind of God.

If there's one group of people who should be able to rely on God stepping into their lives at key points, delivering them from danger and problems, it's God's prophets. After all, they're Yahweh's mouthpiece, the conscience of their people, the specially chosen individuals through whom Yahweh commutates with Yahweh's people. Throughout Scripture, the normal way to discover God's will is to surface and listen to the community's prophets. They're essential to salvation history. Yet God frequently lets those unique individuals twist in the wind, rarely stepping in to help them even when their lives are in danger.
 
Ezekiel can't say he wasn't warned about this lack of support. In calling him, Yahweh first warns him of the rebellious personality traits of those to whom he's sent. They're "hard of face and obstinate of heart." Then basically says, "You're not going to win over many of them. Their will to resist you will be stronger than your ability to convert them." Because of covenant responsibilities, God must send prophets to the Chosen People. But God's under no obligation to force anyone to listen to those prophets.
 
Weakness, not strength, seems to be the name of the prophetic game. Even Jesus, Yahweh's prophet par excellence, discovered this reality. If he had any doubts about the power he possessed, his return to Nazareth immediately removed them. Though he might have been able to "fool" other people in other places, his hometown folk know who he really is: "Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses, and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?" In other words, "Who does this guy think he is?"
 
You might have noticed, this is the only place in the Christian Scriptures which mentions Jesus' occupation. It's certainly not meant to be a compliment, else Matthew wouldn't have later changed it to the "son of the carpenter." Carpenters were not too highly thought of in Jesus' day.
 
But even more important is Mark's comment that Jesus was "not able to perform any mighty deed there ... He was amazed at their lack of faith." The historical Jesus depended on people's faith. Without it, he was powerless. Matthew really had problems with that, so he switched Mark's" not able to perform" to "he did not perform ..." A huge difference!
 
It's interesting (and very revealing) to discover that our evangelists had the same problem as the people of Nazareth. As the gospels progress (from Mark, Matthew and Luke to John) Jesus becomes more and more God and less and less human. There's no way John, for instance, would ever say there was something his Jesus couldn't do. Jesus eventually becomes much more than just the village carpenter. Gospel theology always trumps historical reality.
 
Yet, writing at least ten years before the first gospel, Paul takes us back to that reality by mentioning his "thorn in the flesh." (No one knows exactly what he's talking about, but scholarship money is on malaria.) Whatever it is, it's a constant reminder of his weakness, even in the midst of his prophetic ministry, and it leads him to utter one of Christianity's most important statements: "For when I am weak, then I am strong."
 
As humans, we naturally want to have power over others. But as our ancestors in the faith discovered, God only works through the powerless. What a revolutionary concept! Too bad so many of us have lost that ancient, essential insight of faith.