Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
The Book of Ezekiel furnishes the first reading. The prophet speaks in the first person. He says that he literally heard God speaking to him. God told Ezekiel that he was sending him to the Israelites, who had rebelled against God’s holy law, so that they would be called to forsake their disloyalty and return to God.
God, speaking to Ezekiel, recognizes certain traits about humans. They are stubborn, and they can be very stubborn in their blindness. This blindness prompts them to choose their way rather than the way of God. It is folly for them. Yet, God does not desert them.
St. Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians supplies the second reading. As an aside, this reading includes Paul’s revelation that he had been given “a thorn in the side.” For almost 2,000 years people studying this epistle have wondered what this thorn might in fact have been. Some have thought that it was a chronic illness or disability, perhaps epilepsy. Others think it simply was the temptation to sin.
No one has a conclusive answer. What is clear is that life had its challenges for Paul, as life has challenges for everyone. It is important to remember that in the pious Jewish mind of the time everything bad, including physical problems, came from sin. The loving, merciful God could never will such misfortunes upon people. People bring trouble upon themselves. When Paul writes that Satan brought this burden upon him, he was speaking from this context.
The message is not simply that Paul had difficulties, whatever they were. It is not that he persevered despite these difficulties. He persevered, but it was because God’s strength empowered him. The Apostle encouraged the Corinthian Christians, and encourages us, to be faithful to God. God will provide for us.
For its last reading this weekend, the Church presents a reading from St. Mark’s Gospel.
In this reading, Jesus speaks in the synagogue. People who are not themselves Jewish often today regard synagogues principally to be churches in Judaism. They are not churches, and they properly were not places of worship in the time of Jesus. At that time, for Jews, the temple in Jerusalem was the one place of worship.
Synagogues were places of prayer, indeed, but essentially, they were places to learn, and to discuss, the Scriptures. Hence, Jesus stood and spoke about the Scriptures.
He amazed everyone. His wisdom was profound. He clearly understood God’s revelation. Nevertheless, in their human limitations, many did not recognize Jesus as the Son of God.
Again as an aside, some short explanation of the reference to the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus is needed. Jesus was identified as the son of Mary, but who are the “brothers and sisters”? Were they the children of Mary and Joseph?
From the earliest times of Christianity, the strongest belief has been, as the Church officially teaches, that Mary was a lifelong virgin. Jesus was her only child. One possibility is that these “brothers and sisters” were Joseph’s children by a previous marriage. If so, they would have legally, and culturally, been regarded as siblings of Jesus, regardless of the fact that their mothers were different persons.
Two strong and very enlightening lessons come from these readings. First, all humans are like the ancient stubborn and rebellious Israelites, like the imperceptive people of Nazareth. They could not always put two and two together. We always cannot be right. We fail to understand. We make mistakes. Second, we are inclined to resist the truth because we lean toward sin, the ultimate selfishness.
As God sent Ezekiel, God most especially sent Jesus to show us the way to eternal life. Jesus is the source of all wisdom. He is the Son of God.
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