Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

Bryan J. Kerns, O.S.A.
St. Ambrose Friary
Andover, Massachusetts

Ez 2:2-5
Ps 123:1-2, 2, 3-4
2 Cor 12:7-10
Mk 6:1-6

A few years ago, I was on vacation with some friends of mine. These friends, they have several small kids. One was with us while we were out for ice cream because he had not yet gone to sleep. It was a very crowded ice cream spot. And the father of this child, my friend, in his very well-meaning way, wanting to give mom a break, decides to bring the little one in his stroller to where the crowd is. Sleep will not soon be coming. Mom wanted to walk the child around the parking lot. And I just wanted a milkshake!

But as dad was bounding along, mom said something to me I have not forgotten. She said, after her husband made a bad decision that led to their son being awake longer than necessary: “There are a million opportunities to die to self every day.” But why? Why embrace that idea, that we ought to die to ourselves? Why force the self out of the way? Because as St. Paul tells us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

This dying to self, this embrace of humility, it gets us from getting puffed up. And it prepares a dwelling place for the Lord. For as Paul continues: “I will gladly boast of my weaknesses if it means that Christ dwells in me all the more.”

We all have that opportunity, to get ourselves out of the way – our preferences, our interests, our plans. And thus allow Christ to live within us, to grow within us, to transform us – for with Christ: when we are weak, then we are strong.

Now the prophet Ezekiel and St. Mark show us something of weakness and suffering. The Lord tells Ezekiel that he may suffer rejection at the hands of the Israelites. And Jesus, returning home, is unable to do much of anything because those closest to him have rejected him.

In our own lives, I’m sure we have all encountered that rejection. And the temptation is to get puffed up and self-righteous. Whether it’s personal or professional, we want to be right, and to prevail.

Religious know how the vow of obedience can be really difficult to swallow at times. Wives and husbands know how difficult it can be to compromise when you are convicted about something. Parents and children know how frustrating it can be not to be heard or fail to listen.

But St. Paul has the answer: for power is made perfect in weakness. And the Lord’s grace is sufficient. St. Augustine had something to say about this. He had a two-part definition of humility. Rendered for our time it goes something like this: a detailed awareness of our dependency as created and our fallibility as fallen.

We are created by God and so we are not the Creator, leaving us with a lot less control than we might think. And we sin. We’re fallen. So we aren’t right as often as we may claim to be.

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.

We are humble only to the extent that we remember that we are dependent on God, our Creator, and each other. And that we are fallible and fallen. We sin and we need to come running for God’s mercy.

We have a mission: embrace our weakness, and in that we can find a power that comes from God. Die to self those million times a day.

For when we approach the altar of the Lord for the celebration of the Eucharist, what is it that we do? We give praise and thanks to Christ for his sacrifice, for his embrace of the Cross. For there on the Cross, in that suffering, he showed that power can be made perfect through weakness. He died to self so that we might have life. He left us his Body and Blood as an avenue to eternal life. He gave us the Eucharist for our nourishment, a foretaste of heaven, so that it might transform us. But transform us into what exactly? Disciples who embrace our weaknesses: for when we are weak that is when we our strong. Men and women who recall our dependency on our Creator, and indeed on our Christian community. People sure in the knowledge of our own fallibility.

In all this will we find power, the power that the world so rarely embraces: a power that is at once mighty and gentle – the power of God. Imagine how differently our world would look with that kind of power motoring it: a power borne of weakness and humility.

Now, in case you were wondering about the story at the beginning: baby, stroller, ice cream. Mom was right. He didn’t fall asleep until she walked him around after dad surrendered the stroller. And my milkshake was really good.