Ezekiel 2:2-5; Ps.123; 2Cor.12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6
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Fr Galadima Bitrus, (OSA)
THE PROPHET AMONG HIS OWN
This week, the theme of our reflection is, “THE PROPHET AMONG HIS OWN”. The readings of the Liturgy invite us to reflect on the vocation of the prophet, with particular focus on the exercise of the prophetic ministry within the context of one’s own people.
The prophetic ministry in its very essence is a ministry of the truth, since it is a ministry of objectivity, precisely because the prophet does not communicate his own view of reality but God’s own view, and God’s view is objective because it is not limited by any perspective, since by definition, God is omnipresent and omniscient, not influenced or limited by space or time or circumstance.
In this light, the perspective of a prophet should be a mediation of God’s objective vantage point, uninfluenced by any interest whatsoever. Clearly, this kind of disinterested truth is often bitter, and certainly not easy to communicate especially to a people for whom the prophetic messenger has sympathy or affection on account of affiliations of blood, religion, tribe or nationality.
In the 1st Reading (Eze 2:2-5), Ezekiel is sent to the people of his own nation, characterized by the divine speaker as “a nation of rebels”, whose fathers have defied the Lord and whose sons “are brazen of face and stubborn of heart” (vv.2-4). The characterization of Israel as rebellious and stubborn is a common theme among the prophets. It underscores the nation’s sinfulness and it constitutes the basis of divine punishment with the exile and the destruction of the Temple.
Ezekiel is given an inkling that his people are not likely to listen to him, but he must nonetheless speak the truth to them. As we read in vv.4-5, “I send you to them, and you shall say to them: ‘thus said the Lord’- “whether they listen or not, for they are a rebellious breed – that they may know that there was a prophet among them.”
The expression, “thus said the Lord” is considered as the messenger formula, indicating that the prophet is speaking as God’s mouthpiece, thus in God’s terms, not in his own terms. In the verses and chapters that follow, the prophet is continually reminded of the stubbornness of his people but he is also continually encouraged not to be afraid to speak the truth to them.
The prophetic ministry, as much as it is a ministry of truth, must be nonetheless exercised with profound humility, otherwise the prophetic messenger risks falling into arrogance, boasting and pride. In the 2nd Reading (2 Cor 12:7-10), St. Paul, in response to the boasting of his adversaries, speaks of himself as a privileged recipient of extraordinary revelations and was considering the idea of also justifiably boasting: “For if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth” (v.6).
To put him in check from being puffed up with pride, God allows him to suffer some bodily affliction. In Paul’s own words, “Therefore to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh…” (v.7). This kept him constantly aware of his weakness and in the constant realization that his privileged reception of extraordinary revelations is indeed a privilege, the product of pure grace.
In this way, we are taught to be vigilant whenever God confers on us any special gift, especially the gift of special revelation. For once pride sets in, then it poisons such a beautiful gift. As St. Augustine wrote in his rule for monastic life, “Indeed, every other kind of sin has to do with the commission of evil deeds, whereas pride lurks even in good works in order to destroy them” (Rule VIII).
The Gospel Reading (Mk 6:1-6) is the account of Jesus’ ministry in his country home of Nazareth, among his own people. This follows the account of the healing of Jairus’ daughter and the hemorrhaging woman (cf. 5:21-43) and comes just before the commissioning of the twelve to go out for mission and replicate what Jesus had been doing in their company (cf. 6:7-13).
Jesus here has a classic prophetic experience of being rejected by one’s own kins. Although many of them were astounded listening to him teach in the synagogue with extraordinary wisdom and deeds of power, they were prejudiced by their familiarity with him, thus blocking them from accepting him based on the evidence of what they saw him do and hear him say. This classic prophetic experience of rejection by his own kin prompted Jesus into formulating the axiomatic statement, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown and among their own kin and in their own house” (v.4).
The word used to describe the reaction of the people of Jesus’ hometown after they tried to undermine his prophetic status by evoking their familiarity with him is “eskandalìzonto”, which literally means, “they were made to fall”, thus they were scandalized in him because they allowed their familiarity with him to lead them into holding him in contempt. But Jesus knew that his people needed to see and hear him manifest himself as God’s sent, so that whether they listen or not, like Ezekiel’s people in the first reading, they will at least know that there was a prophet among them.
Truth saves, as John 8:32 makes us understand: “And you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” Without truth which prophetic figures must continue to communicate, we would be living in enslaving illusions and falsehoods that destine us for needless destruction. If we speak truth to others that they may be set free, we are undertaking a salvific act of charity towards them.
If so, this act of charity should in fact begin at home. The bitter herbs of truth should, in fact, not be reserved for only those for whom we nurse no affection or sympathy; they may just be also medicinal to those of our own circles and affiliations and should be equally served them.
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
FIVE WAYS TO UNDERSTAND THE REJECTION OF A PROPHET
Today’s gospel presents us with the first time Jesus is described as a prophet in Mark Gospel. The first and second reading equally reflected Ezekiel and Paul manifesting their vocation as God’s prophets. The word “Prophet” comes from the Greek root word profetes and refers to someone who receives revelations from God for others. In the Old Testament, prophets gave messages to kings and nations. The messages were meant to save the people or explain why God was about to deliver them to the hands of their enemies.
The person who carries this function is called a prophet. By extension those who communicate God’s truth are regarded as prophets. Today, the claimed title of “prophet” has taken an unbiblical spin. Some “prophets” indulge in divination, palm reading, and soothsaying and the world applause them as prophets. A prophet is not a soothsayer but truthsayer (Deu.18:22). When Jesus says “A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country” he was not referring to false prophets and diviners but true prophets. Then why are true prophets rejected? To answer this question let us look at the five ways to understand the statement “A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country”.
- “A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country” is a statement that is originally attributed to a Greek proverb regarding their philosopher. But sadly enough, it is true for Jewish prophets. For example in 1Kings 18:4 Queen Jezebel killed several prophets, in 1Kings 19:1-2 she tried to kill Elijah and in Jeremiah 38:6, Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern. Paul was mocked for his weaknesses. Today, anyone who preaches the truth or speaks for the voiceless, the poor and the marginalized is tortured either by those in power or followers (beneficiaries). Similarly, the Church – the first prophet and teacher is always criticized simply because she stands against perverse technologies and the immoral possibilities created by science.
- “A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country” means that prophets go through challenges. Jesus came to his own people he was disrespected. Ezekiel was sent to the sons of Israel regardless of their rebellious character. Paul insisted in preaching God’s word irrespective of what people say about him. Beloved, we must continue to preach the truth irrespective of the crises therein. However, a good preacher must also be a good listener. Such that, in preaching we are speaking to ourselves and others. When we don’t listen then we shall prepare others for salvation and we shall not be saved.
- “A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country” shows that Jesus was treated with contempt. His own people did not respect him because they were so familiar with him. Oftentimes we don’t respect our priests and spiritual leaders especially when we have knowledge of their childhood or when we are so familiar with their training, person and life. Familiarity is good; it brings us into one family. But over familiarity breeds contempt and this was the case with Jesus. According to psychologists: on the average, we like people less the more we know about them. The “mere-exposure effect phenomenon” shows that just being exposed to someone causes us to like them more. This explains why many of us are eternal optimists about forming new relationships; while those we already know become irritating.
- “A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country” means that if we dishonour a prophet we can never attract his covering. Precisely because of this, the gospel recorded that Jesus could not perform mighty deeds amongst his people (Mark. 6:5). Beloved, let us learn to honour and respect spiritual leaders.
- “A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country” tells us something about the prophet himself. Why do people dishonour prophets? One of the reasons most people dishonour prophets is the life style of the prophet. Most people disprespect prophets because of their weaknesses. Some are highly expectant – they expect a prophet to be perfect. Most prophets in the Bible were called in their weaknesses and for that reason they initially rejected God’s call. God’s call is sacred and angelic; no man in his right senses will want to accept such call. Thus, God seduces men.
Biblically, in Exd. 4:10 Moses said to the Lord, “But, Lord, I am telling you, I am not a good speaker. I have never been able to speak well. And that hasn’t changed since you started talking to me.” In Isaiah 6:5 Isaiah cried when he was called; he says “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” The first reading says “Ezekiel did not make himself a prophet. Rather, the Lord spoke to him and the spirit of the Lord entered him” (Ezek2:2). In the second reading, Paul received this “thorn in the flesh” to keep him humble. It made him ask three times for it to be removed, but the Lord wanted him to keep it and to rely on the grace he was giving him. Beloved, man is not perfect. No prophet is perfect. we are what we are by the grace of God. Jesus chose Peter and gave him the keys of the kingdom despite knowing his weaknesses. We are not chosen because we are strong; we are chosen because we are weak. This is the mystery of the divine choice. Man chooses the strong; God chooses the weak to shape the strong. We rely on God’s grace.
What then is our hope? The response to today’s psalm says “Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy.” Let us all focus on God’s mercy – we are at the mercy of God. This does not suggest spiritual laziness and indiscipline rather we should continue to strive knowing that his mercy and grace is always sufficient for us. We should not give up moment when we battle with thorns on our flesh. Do not reject Christ, his massage, prophets and conscience. When the battle is over we shall wear the crown of unfading glory. God bless you!
Fr. Paul Oredipe
“Familiarity should breed not contempt, but contemplation.” – Perseverance in Prophecy
This is one of the most shocking statements in all the Gospels – that Jesus could not perform miracles. Not that He would not, but that He simply could not. Is anything impossible with Jesus?
Today’s gospel says yes. It is impossible for Jesus to perform miracles in a situation where there is no faith. Jesus could do all things and wants to do all things for His people. But He needs our faith to release His power. Remembering last week’s gospel of the woman with the flow of blood, many people were touching and pushing against Jesus. Nothing happened because they did not touch with faith. But as soon as the woman of faith touches Him, healing power comes out of Jesus. As all-powerful as Jesus is, we have the capacity to “disable” Him by our lack of faith. Faith is like a switch that turns God on, lack of faith turns God off.
Why the rejection and hostility of the people of Nazareth? Was it because of His message? His message was the Gospel, the good news.
Why did His people not believe in Him? Jesus says it is because “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house” (Mark 6:4). An equivalent modern saying would be, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Familiarity does indeed breed contempt. But today’s Gospel challenges us to strive every day to discover the new something that God is offering us through the same old and familiar channels.
In spite of the poor welcome and the disappointment that He felt, Jesus continued to go from town to town teaching. The Church does the same thing. Following the example of the Lord, the Church preaches, evangelizes and teaches. This is the prophetic mission of the Church and it is her most important work.
In today’s First reading, the prophet Ezekiel’s mission was to speak the truth despite apathy and resistance. And the prophet Ezekiel was in the same predicament. He was given the task of preaching to the people of Israel just when they had rebelled against God. It was a difficult undertaking because these people had become rebellious, hard of face and obstinate of heart. To Ezekiel was given the mission of communicating the word of God without changing it or softening it. That is what he did, even though people did not want to listen.
In the Second reading, Saint Paul tells the Corinthians that in spite of the insults, the privations and the persecutions that he has suffered for preaching the Word of God, he has to continue doing so, he has to continue proclaiming and glorifying the Lord.
St. Paul speaks about his mission of preaching God’s word despite his thorn in the flesh. He is speaking about a physical ailment of some kind that seriously debilitated him. May be we have a thorn in the flesh which is not necessarily a physical ailment but may be certain people or events in our life. Perhaps it was an illness or it could have been temptations that beset him. We do know that when he asked the Lord to relieve him of this affliction the response was, “my grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” St. Paul teaches us that we do not have to be perfect to be instruments of God.
We suffer from the same weaknesses that Paul had at one time or another in our lives. Our Lord knows that we are weak, that we feel misunderstood when we talk about our faith or about God. We even sometimes feel misunderstood by members of our own family and by our friends. But, in spite of this, we should follow the example of the prophet Ezekiel, who continued to preach, even when no one wanted to listen to him.
Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” What does that say about us? Can we remember a time when we stopped listening to our parents and friends, to our priests and bishop and the teaching authority of the Church, because their views did not conform to what we wanted to do? As a parent, we have likely experienced a burning love for our children and have been frustrated by their unwillingness to listen to anything we said.
In the Gospel, Jesus is rejected by His own in His hometown. But He went forward. If people close to us will not listen to us, that does not mean that nobody will listen to us. We should not give up speaking the truth.
These facts about the prophets’ life are relevant to us because as a Church, as a parish, as individual Christian, we are called to speak and live God’s word in the world around us.
What if like St. Paul we have our thorn in the flesh, a personal problem that we have to address? We cannot wait for our life to be perfect before we speak and live the truth of God. If we wait for our life to be perfect, we will wait for ever. We are not called to be problem-free but to be faithful.
What is there in my life that I think Jesus cannot touch, cannot change? Am I willing to present it humbly to Jesus each day so that He can slowly transform me? Do I try to use my spiritual commitments to grow in faith? Do I trust in Christ? If not, I need to ask Him to increase that trust. He wants to make me into a saint. He wants to change this world. He can. I simply have to put my trust in Him.
What if, as in today’s Gospel, those nearest to us do not listen to what we have to say like the people in Jesus’ own hometown? May be those closest to us fail to see the truth of what we have to say because they are so close. We should never let their rejection keep us from our mission of speaking the truth to others. Jesus reminds us: “No pupil is greater than his teacher, no slave is greater than his master.” (Matt. 10:24) As Jesus was refused, we should be ready to be rejected as long as we remain in Him.
Like Ezekiel, we are not called to be popular. Like St. Paul, we are not called to be problem-free. Like the Lord Himself, we are not called to be accepted by those nearest to us. But we are called to be faithful. Fidelity, not any success we might have, but fidelity to living and speaking God’s word is our key to salvation.
All of us may not be successful. But all of us can be faithful.
From this Gospel passage, we can see that what we are called to do by Jesus regarding the nature of discipleship is to persevere. There is no more certain route to failure than to give up too quickly and allow self-pity and self-centeredness to take over.
We are called to bring the love and hope of the Gospel in every area of our lives in whatever form is possible and practical. There is no turning away from the responsibility that is ours, and leave God to do what God alone can deal with.
It means that we are to be quiet and listen, … for God is calling each of us. He is calling us to hear His voice and to heed His voice, … He is calling each of us to speak to Him in prayer, to respond to His call … for God wants to communicate with His people.
There are two important lessons in these readings that can help us if we take time to think about them, and to apply them to our own life.
The first is that we need God’s help to hear His word with both our minds and our hearts. God’s word is something we can try to study and understand. When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, or when following the Church’s teaching requires self-sacrifice, we need to understand why these teachings are important and why they make sense.
The second point is that just as we need God’s help to understand His word and His will, God, in a sense, needs us to cooperate with Him. Remember that Jesus could work no miracle in Nazareth because the people would not open themselves up to what He wanted to do for them. God will not force Himself on us. He invites us to let Him into our lives, just as Jesus invited His audience that day in Nazareth.
But remember what He tells us in the Gospel of John: I am the vine, and you are the branches. Live in me. If you are cut-off from me, you wither and die. If you remain in me, you will remain in my love, and you will bear much fruit.
May we be builders rather than destroyers. May we have all the patience we need to accomplish the things we need to do. Most of all, may we set a wonderful example for our children, that they might grow in the way God would have them grow, and work toward what is important.
In our weakness there can be strength, if we allow our weakness to help us depend on God. This week we can seek God in many ways. We can know that God has patience with us in our weakness. We can use all that God offers to turn our weakness into strength.
Let us pray today for the courage to let Jesus more and more into our daily lives. Let us pray that we will rely on Him, and not on our own strength, to have the courage to accept His teaching even when it is challenging and difficult. And may we speak it effectively to others when He calls us to do that.
Above all, let us pray that we will remain in His love, and may that love radiate to all whom we meet this week.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.