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Breath of the Spirit

Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.

Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.

 

Today’s II Corinthians passage contains two of the most significant statements in all of Christian literature: “power is made perfect in weakness,” and “when I am weak, then I am strong.”

 

JULY 5TH, 2015: FOURTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings:

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

Today’s II Corinthians passage contains two of the most significant statements in all of Christian literature: “power is made perfect in weakness,” and “when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Though Paul normally comes across as possessing a strong personality, in this part of his second letter to the community in Corinth, he zeroes in on his weakness. Though we can’t be certain what his “thorn in the flesh” actually is, most commentators today believe it’s malaria: a condition which comes and goes, but always leaves someone in a weakened condition, unable to accomplish what he or she intends to accomplish. If so, this must have been the biggest drawback to Paul’s itinerant preaching ministry.

Yet instead of moping and complaining about his Achilles heel, Paul sees it as part of the risen Jesus’ plan for him. He believes the Lord has graced him so sufficiently that he, with the Lord’s help, can even overcome an obstacle which would stop most others from carrying out their God-given work. “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” In other words, the Apostle is convinced that if he had no obstacles to his work, he might actually be tempted to believe that it was he, and not the Christ, who was accomplishing those amazing things.

Such confidence in God working through us, in spite of our failures, is also a frequent theme in the Hebrew Scriptures. The disciples of Ezekiel who saved and put his oracles into the form we have them today included this insight in the prophet’s initial call narrative. Yahweh warns, “Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you. . . . And whether they heed or resist – for they are a rebellious house – they shall know that a prophet has been among them.” Yahweh’s only interested in keeping his promise to send prophets to his people. Whether they fail or succeed is irrelevant. Failure is not only an option for prophets, it’s a normal part of their ministry.

That seems to be why Mark includes Jesus’-return-to-Nazareth narrative in his gospel. It can only be seen as Jesus’ failure in prophetically preaching to the residents of his own hometown.

This passage so zeroes in on the historical Jesus’ limitations that Matthew, in copying it about ten years later, changed it in two significant ways. Because carpenters weren’t highly thought of in Palestine during the first third of the first century CE, the second gospel writer altered the people’s comment, “Is he not the carpenter . . . ?” to “Is this not the carpenter’s son?” He also changed Mark’s comment, “He was not able to perform any mighty deed there . . . .” to “He did not work many mighty deeds there . . . .” Quite a huge difference between could not and did not. Fortunately for us, Mark wasn’t afraid to say there were some things not even Jesus could do; some things which depended on peoples’ faith in him.  

I presume if there weren’t some in the community for which the evangelist composed his gospel who were failing in the various areas in which the risen Jesus was calling them to minister, we’d know nothing of Jesus’ disastrous return to Nazareth. Just like Paul, 25 years later, Mark was convinced that something had to be said about weakness and failure. It was an essential part of the Christian experience.

To put it bluntly. If we always succeed in everything we think the risen Jesus expects us to do, we might not actually be doing what he expects us to do.

 

 

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