Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

By Father Paul Nord, O.S.B.

Sunday Scripture

First Reading: Ezekiel 2:2-5; Response: Psalm 123:1-4; Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Gospel: Mark 6:1-6

The first reading contains the “commissioning” of Ezekiel as a prophet of the Lord God. First, Ezekiel says, “the spirit entered into me.” Second, Ezekiel is sent to proclaim the Lord God’s word to the Israelites who are “rebels who have rebelled against me.” The next verses continue this theme — recalling that the Israelites “have revolted” against God “to this very day.” Clearly Ezekiel will call the Israelites to repent. They are further described as “hard of face and obstinate of heart.” This reveals the difficulty of Ezekiel’s task as a prophet. God reassures Ezekiel that “whether they heed or resist,” they will know that Ezekiel is indeed the Lord God’s prophet.

Throughout the prophecy of Ezekiel, God repeatedly (93 times) addresses Ezekiel as “son of man.” When God speaks to Ezekiel, “son of man” emphasizes the vast distance between Ezekiel’s humanity and God’s divinity. This is a reminder to Ezekiel of his dependence on God’s power and providence. Jesus describes himself as “the Son of Man” in the Gospels, but this is different — it refers to his mission as God’s anointed Messiah.

Our second reading is near the end of a section of 2nd Corinthians in which Paul “boasts like a fool.” Paul does this because he seeks to refute his opponents who have praised themselves to bolster their own authority. Paul’s opponents have been misleading the Corinthians with false teachings, and Paul is determined to return the Corinthians to true faith in Christ.

But to do this, Paul does not praise himself. Instead, Paul boasts of his weakness and sufferings — see especially 2 Corinthians 11:21-30. Paul wants the Corinthians to have faith in Christ — not faith in Paul himself and his own earthly qualifications. Further Paul boasts of his weakness and sufferings because for Paul these are proof that he is a true disciple of Jesus Christ — who likewise suffered on the cross for our sakes.

Next, in 2 Corinthians 12:1-6, Paul describes “a man in Christ who, fourteen years ago ... was caught up to the third heaven” (12:2). Paul is describing a vision that he experienced, which he could use to bolster his own teaching authority as an apostle. But Paul finishes this section by saying: “a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.” Paul explains that this suffering was given to him to prevent him from becoming “too elated, because of the abundance of the revelations.”

Paul’s purpose in recounting his vision suddenly becomes clear. Paul wants the Corinthians to understand that if they wish to receive blessings and graces from Christ, they must expect to share in Christ’s sufferings also. Paul witnesses to his own experience of begging the Lord Jesus “three times” that this “thorn in flesh ... might leave me.” Paul tells us Jesus’ response to Paul’s begging. Jesus told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Thus, it was necessary that Paul accept the suffering of this “thorn in the flesh” if he wanted “that the power of Christ may dwell with me.”

So Paul chose not only to accept his weakness and sufferings, but even to boast of them — because through them the power of Christ worked in Paul as he proclaimed Christ’s Gospel. Since Paul’s time, there has been endless speculation about what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” could have been. Paul doesn’t tell us, so we don’t really know. But perhaps Paul’s ambiguity can allow us to better identify our own lived experience with Paul’s experience. Paul is modeling for us what it means to be Christ’s disciple. Like Paul, we must be “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints, for the sake of Christ.” If we do this, then Christ’s strength and grace will work through our weaknesses.

Our gospel today describes Jesus’ rejection by the people of “his native place” — Nazareth. In the previous chapters of Mark, Jesus had healed numerous people as he taught about the kingdom of God. Many had praised Jesus and believed that he was a true prophet. But in Nazareth, Jesus faces ridicule and “lack of faith.” Jesus “was not able to perform any mighty deed there.” This does not suggest that Jesus lacked the power, but rather that the “lack of faith” in Nazareth prompted Jesus not to heal there.

Both Matthew and Luke give accounts of Jesus’ rejection by the people of Nazareth. Luke (4:16–30) in particular describes the event in great detail. Luke recounts Jesus reading from the prophet Isaiah before the synagogue congregation. Luke notes that those in the Nazareth synagogue “spoke well of him” at first (Luke 4:22), but then rejected Jesus after hearing him teach more. Mark’s wording might suggest that some initially had a positive reaction to Jesus’ teaching — “many who heard him were astonished.” But ultimately most in Nazareth reject Jesus.

Today’s gospel is from Mark 6. In the preceding Mark 5, Jesus made his first journey into Gentile territory — far from home. While there, Jesus cast an unclean spirit out of a Gerasene man. It is notable that Jesus performed miraculous works in Gentile territory, but mostly did not in his hometown because of their lack of faith. Mark notes the exception that Jesus cured “a few sick people by laying his hands on them” while in Nazareth.

Jesus taught in the Nazareth synagogue — as he had preached in other synagogues. But in Nazareth, they rejected Jesus’ message. They noted that Jesus was a “carpenter, the son of Mary.” The description of Jesus’ hands is particularly striking. His hands had once crafted items out of wood, but now Jesus’ hands are curing the sick and doing “mighty deeds.” The people of Nazareth refuse to accept this. They know Jesus’ family, and they refuse to believe that God would work through such ordinary-seeming people. They reject the mystery of the Incarnation — that God would choose to share in our ordinary human condition.