Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time • Year B

Fr. Ray Dlugos, O.S.A.

Raymond F. Dlugos, O.S.A.
Merrimack College
North Andover, Massachusetts

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

“I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me…for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

It may be hard to hear those words of St. Paul whispered to us beneath the din of fireworks and martial music from our Independence Day celebration which, of course, continues through this Sunday. We have acknowledged and celebrated the strength of our nation, its power, its prosperity, and its freedom. And while we did all of that aware of its problems and difficulties, our focus was on how great we are and how lucky we are to live in this country that has been so richly blessed. We aren’t boasting of its weaknesses as much as we may be tempted to ignore them, and to focus on our strengths. This may be great politics, but it may cause problems for us in terms of faith, spirituality, and salvation. As Paul also says to us in today’s second reading, “My grace is enough for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” What might we be missing by not allowing the power of Christ to dwell with us in our weakness, the vulnerability we share with all human beings, and the powerlessness that is part and parcel of life in this world?

Last Sunday, we heard of Jesus performing two great healing miracles. In both cases, there was someone who was powerless and desperate, a woman with a hemorrhage that had exhausted her physically, socially, and emotionally but not spiritually. She knew herself to be powerless, to be weak, to be helpless and in that found the faith to reach out and touch his garment. He made it clear to her that it was her faith that saved her, her faith that pulled power out of him so that it could dwell in her and restore her to wholeness. Her faith was born of her powerlessness and weakness and enabled the power of Christ to rest upon her.

The synagogue official Jarius had plenty of resources at his disposal but none of them were any match for his utter powerlessness in the face of a 12-year-old daughter dying. His learning was of no help, his position of prestige was useless, his connections in the community were not up to the task. In fact, he may have risked all of that to trust in the itinerant preacher named Jesus who was not an official part of his system and not necessarily acceptable to others with whom he shared his position in the community. From his powerlessness, not his power, from his weakness, not his strength he begged Jesus to come. His faith wavered, but was restored, and with it his daughter was given back to him. His faith was born of his helplessness, not his strength.

Today’s Gospel shows us Jesus encountering a very different situation. He comes back to the place where he was raised and does what he has done everywhere else. He teaches in their synagogue and astonishes them, speaking with authority and not like the scribes they were used to hearing. But somehow their astonishment turns to offense at him: “Who does he think he is?” “We know him and he is just like us.” And he was unable to perform any mighty deed there because of their lack of faith which amazed him. Unlike the woman with the hemorrhage and Jairus the synagogue official, they could not and would not boast of their weakness and so he could not dwell in them. And so faith was not born for them as they could not see the need to humble themselves before someone they knew was just like them.

The first reading from Ezekiel introduces us to the reality of prophets, people called to speak and proclaim God’s word. I can’t imagine that anyone in their right mind would aspire to be a prophet. And that’s okay because being a prophet is a job for which one is chosen by God and not one we can choose for ourselves. Most were very aware of the awesome responsibility being given to them, all seemed to know that what God would say through them would not usually be well-received and that they would suffer for it and they often did. Prophets do get a unique experience of the awesome transcendent power of God and feel rather than know that it is something beyond our ability to comprehend and that simply means that they will not be able to convince or make us understand how small we are in comparison and how loved we are despite our smallness. Prophets tend to be very aware of their powerlessness in the face of the power of the God who has called them and invited them to surrender their strength so that God’s power can be made perfect in them. Prophets bring hard news, call us back to obedience to God when we have become enamored with our own smarts and ingenuity, our strength and power. Indeed, prophets tend to point out our weakness and powerlessness and invite us to allow that to be where God’s power saves us, and that is never a popular message.

And so as we bring our celebration of Independence Day to a close, might there be prophets in our midst, doing what prophets are called to do, reminding that by ourselves we are not all that, that our success, achievement, dominance, prosperity, and wealth as a nation and as individuals will never be enough to make us whole. For that we need to boast instead of our powerlessness so that the power of Christ can dwell with us.