14th Sunday in Ordinary Time reflection by Fr. Matthew Litak
Today's readings are full of failure, and more importantly for us, perseverance. Ezekiel is sent to the hard hearted and rebellious house of Israel to face rebukes and refutations. Paul tells us, “Three times I begged the Lord about [his thorn in the flesh], that it might leave me,” but without getting the relief for which he prayed. Even Jesus, we are told, “was not able to perform any mighty deed [in Nazareth] apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.” It is easy for us to forget this, to think that for those who do what God wants it is always easy and that success is guaranteed. Or at least success as we might see it. The reality is God is always successful, but in ways we do not expect. More on that later. For now, we are confronted by these series of losses and what they mean to us.
The story of Paul is very informative. No one alive today knows what was meant by his ‘thorn.’ Was it an actual physical ailment? A sexual temptation? A sense of doubt? A physical danger? Speculation abounds. What is clear is that it makes him, writing from prison, feel weak. Though in this weakness comes an extra dependence on God and on the power of God who can do far more than Paul ever could. What of Jesus? In His hometown, offering treasure and left out in the cold. No one seems to want to hear Him, to be healed by Him, to be changed by Him. We see in their refusal the scandal of the incarnation. Jesus lived a full human life without shortcuts. People would have grown up with Him, talked to Him, talked about Him, etc. He was there in the messiness of life and He was a Messiah? For their part the Nazarenes see a literally unbelievable mystery that they do not try to confront. Where did he get all of this? The answer is life changing, but, they are not really asking the question. They are content to let Him be and go back to selling wine, farming, etc. as though nothing was different. The Torah was hard enough and there were other things to worry about, they just had to be good enough anyway. Why bother with this Jesus fellow, and the wonders He might work? Why go to Mass, God is forgiving and my bed is comfortable? How many wonders have been passed up because we were unwilling to participate?
It is a good thing for us there were and are those who are willing to participate. Ezekiel, Paul, and Jesus all went out. They were faithful, even though they were rejected. One thinks of Mother Theresa’s line “God calls us to be faithful, not necessarily successful." It is their obedience to God which glorifies God and ultimately what God wants. He wants hearts willing to lay it all on the line for Him. He wants hearts willing to say ‘yes’ to Him, to love as He loves. God knows that that kind of love changes the world and ultimately leads to His victory. Paul’s first imprisonment leads to his jailor’s conversion. His second leads to some of the most profound letter’s ever written. We all know how Jesus’ rejection ends, we engage and are renewed and redeemed by it on a daily basis.
What does this tell us? It lets us know that struggling does not mean we are doing something wrong. It lets us know that failure is not a sign of God’s displeasure. It gives us hope that even the darkest of circumstances God is at work pulling us along.
When have you felt God making your weakness strong?
What helps you to keep going in your faith journey?
Can you speak to the gift of endurance through trials?