Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 8, 2018 – Year B
Readings: Ez 2:2-5 / Ps 123 / 2 Cor 12:7-10 / Mk 6:1-6
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon
Today’s gospel is one that, at first glance, seems a little odd. Think about Jesus – He is the Son of God. He is the second person of the Holy Trinity, and he couldn’t do any mighty deeds. Really? That seems weird. But the more I think about it, the more that I think it is exactly right if you look at that gospel a little more closely. It has to do with who we are, and who God is.
We humans are strange creatures. Sometimes what we do does not make sense. How often do we bite the hand that feeds us? We don’t know why we do it; we just do it. How often do we fail to do what we know we should do, or do what we know we shouldn’t? I know that at this point in my life, if I eat too much, I’ll gain weight and I’ll lose energy, and my health deteriorates. I do pretty well most of the time, but sometimes I don’t do a very good job.
There’s an interesting thing about humans – it is a statistical fact that we judge ourselves relative to the people around us. The rates of depression are higher in countries where the overall satisfaction and happiness quotient are highest. That may seem weird, but that’s how we are. We tend to judge how we are and how we are feeling based on the people around us. So when the people around us seem to being doing better than we are, we tend to feel worse about ourselves. But God is not like that. God is what He is, and what He is, is love. He is incapable of acting any other way. One very important thing about God is that God gave us free will, and God does not usurp that, even when we might be better off if He did.
Keep that in mind when you look at this gospel, because I think the key to this gospel is pride and humility. Jesus goes back to His hometown, where a lot of people remembered Him when He was running around as a little boy. He comes back, and now He is preaching in the synagogue. You might think that they should be honored to listen to Him. But all they saw was that little boy, and they thought, “What does this blue collar upstart think – telling us what we should do?” I think if we were honest with ourselves, we would probably be the same way. But you will notice that in the gospel it says that He was able to heal some people. So obviously, not everyone there was in that mindset. Not everyone was over-prideful and felt threatened by this person they thought they knew, but it turned out that they didn’t.
If you look at the lives of the saints, you will see this dichotomy between pride and humility. Oftentimes, it is drastic. Think of St. Ignatius of Antioch; his goal in life was to receive honor and praise through glory in battle, and he sought out conflict. Then he got hurt, he wound up stuck in bed, and he took the time out to read the gospels and the lives of the saints. He changed – he realized he was on a wrong path and he became humble. Some of the great saints, who are normally very humble, sometimes can swing back the other way a little bit. One of my favorite quotes is from St. Catherine; she wrote that God spoke to her one time, and said, “Catherine, I am God and you are not.” Think about St. Augustine. He was a wild child who sought fame and glory. He was brilliant. He went around the world and crossed the sea into Italy trying to make a name for himself. Then he ran into St. Ambrose who showed him a different way. This same wild child was the one who wrote in Confessions, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”
I think the best example of this transformation from pride into humility is St. Paul. He was one of the biggest persecutors of the early Church. He was holding people’s coats while St. Stephen was stoned to death. Then he had a life-changing experience. His demeanor changed completely, which you can see in the second reading. But I think it is a little more obvious if you read all of the second chapter of Second Corinthians.
Our second reading today picks up with verse seven, but if you go back to the beginning of that chapter, Paul writes, “I know someone, in Christ, who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third Heaven. And I know that this person was caught up into paradise and heard ineffable things which no one can utter. About this person I will boast, but about myself I will not boast, except about my weakness.”
And who is this person that Paul is talking about? It’s Paul himself. He realized that it was not about himself, and he realized that this beautiful vision that he had been given was just that – it was given, and it had nothing to do with him. It was about Christ. That’s why, in the part of that chapter that we heard today, he is boasting about the thorn that he is having to live with. The thorn; he is not specific about what it is. Perhaps it was a physical affliction, or perhaps it was a person who was giving him a hard time. But he boasts that he was continuing to embrace that and that he was still doing the work of Christ.
The take-away for us today is this: We all deal with the struggle between pride and humility. And I suspect that each one of us has a thorn that we have to deal with. So we have to ask ourselves if that thorn is going to make us bitter and prideful, or is that thorn going to have the effect that it had on Paul. Is it going to bring us closer to Jesus?