Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, year B, July 8, 2018
Ezekiel was a prophet during the exile in Babylon. He had to tell the Jews that even more bad news was coming, although other prophets were painting a rosy picture. This passage comes from God's instruction at the time of Ezekiel's call.
The early church in Corinth was full of controversy. Some members challenged the authority of the apostle Paul. So Paul presents his qualifications, including some supernatural visions he had. But he qualifies these credentials with a meditation on his own weakness.
A main theme of Saint Mark's gospel is that the followers of Jesus should not embrace Jesus only because of the miracles he performed, but must reckon with the opposition he faced and the cross he endured. This passage is about people dismissing Jesus because he lacked credentials.
Our Liturgical Situation: This year we're reading Saint Mark's gospel Sunday by Sunday. It's major themes include the reign of God, the mystery of the Messiah's suffering, and the disciples' misunderstanding of Jesus. Today's passage, Mark 6:1-6, is about how people in Jesus' home town misunderstood and rejected him, leading Jesus to apply an already familiar proverb to a new subject, "No prophet is without honor except in his own country." Today's first reading captures the same experience in the career of the prophet Ezekiel, from about 600 years before Jesus.
The Historical Situation: Ezekiel was the first person called to become a prophet while the people were in Exile in Babylon. Others at the time were saying that the Exile was soon to end and they'd be going home to a newly prosperous Jerusalem soon. Ezekiel knew better, and resolutely predicted the further destruction of Jerusalem. It was an unpopular message, but one for which history soon vindicated him. Our passage today lacks these details. It's from early in the book, where the subject is Ezekiel's call to serve as prophet. The calling God is blunt about the resistance that his prophet will have to face.
Proclaiming It: Note the structure of the reading: Ezekiel says "I heard a voice say to me, 'I am sending you ...,'" and the rest of the passage is the words of that voice. So the prophet is getting instructions here from God. And so it's God's voice that you should "put on" for your proclamation. God is angry about the rebelliousness of the people to whom he is sending his prophet. God loves Ezekiel, who already knows how rebellious the people are. God is sharing his frustration with a trusted partner. Let that guide you in selecting tone of voice and placement of emphasis.
The "extraordinary revelations" that might have made Paul conceited were probably some visions he enjoyed. They gave him motivation and may have provided content for his preaching, but he didn't want to use the experience of them to puff up his authority among those to whom he preached. He needed to appear weak among them, in order to "stay out of the way" of the Spirit working among them.
Proclaiming It: Imagine the tone of voice that Paul would use if he were preaching, not writing. Think of those times when you've heard a preacher be quite candid, using his or her own experiences as material for the sermon. Paul relates experiences quite personal, that left him perplexed. Imagine the sound of him begging the Lord for relief. Imagine the different tone Paul heard in the Lord's unsympathetic reply, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." Act out this drama with your own varying tones of voice.
But at the part beginning "I will rather boast ...," the tone should change. These are the words of a person looking back with understanding, who now sees the big picture of which his revelations, thorns in the flesh and unrewarding pleading with the Lord were all parts. Now he's speaking confidently and wisely about the outcome of it all. His conclusion, meant not just to describe himself but to apply to all listeners, is firm: "for when I am weak, then I am strong."
"This Roman sandal, dated to 200 years after Christ, recalls Jesus' admonition to his disciples in Mark 6 to wear simple sandals, and to shake the dust off of their feet if ever they are unwelcome in a home where they seek shelter. Today we are made aware of the current symbolism of shoes, of the foot unshod, in the region where Jesus, Paul, and the early Christians lived, as we learn more about the values of cultures far from us in distance, but bridged by the gospel's cultural reminders."
This page updated May 3, 2018