Sunday Scripture Readings

FOURTEENTH SUNDAY

IN ORDINARY TIME,

JULY 6

Ezekiel 2:2-5; Psalm 123;

2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6

OUR GOOD NEWS: We can ignore and reject God's prophets who summon us to repentance. Paul insisted that apostolic service validates his ministry, not the "extraordinary revelations" to which he only reluctantly admitted. After discussing such mystical gifts, he acknowledged a constant affliction steadily draining his energy. In lieu of symptoms he described effects metaphorically, making a diagnosis impossible. The pain was like something pointed, like a stake, splinter or "thorn in the flesh." Paul agreed with the New Testament as a whole, that sickness represents an evil intrusion into God's world that must be actively opposed rather than passively accepted. Modern health care was originally "invented" by Christians carrying on the crusade begun by Jesus against suffering. As with Jesus, God doesn't cause pain but permits it for loving though mysterious purposes. Thus, Paul didn't blame God for laying this cross upon him. It was like being buffeted, battered, "beaten" by an "agent (angel-messenger) of Satan," clever and resourceful leader of creation's revolt against its loving Creator. Praying for healing "three times" may suggest completion - "I prayed and prayed and prayed." Opponents within the Corinthian community presumed that an authentic apostle would be vindicated by heavenly visitation and a miraculous healing. Instead, Paul discovered positive value in his pain. It stopped him getting above himself, brought him down to earth. The great apostle remained a frail, vulnerable, suffering mortal, effectively protected not from suffering but from delusions of grandeur. God takes our hurts and turns them into occasions for personal growth in selfless love, and/or into redemptive acts enriching the lives of others. Suffering makes for patience, sensitivity and compassion; it compels sensible recording of priorities and elicits appreciation of life's blessings. It also uniquely touches others: suffering establishes credibility, breaks down barriers of suspicion, empowers repentant change of heart, more effectively than exhortation or correction. Welcome news that God uses us in weakness and not just - or mainly - in the strength of our talents, connections or energies! History vindicates this revelation that "in weakness power reaches perfection." Paul's conclusion addresses Ezekiel (first reading) and all who serve God without appreciation. Effectiveness follows not only in spite of but because one encounters personal inadequacy, discouragement, misunderstanding, hostility. Otherwise we preach our own gospel that cannot save. This passage has direct application into our daily lives, however much we resist it. God permits rather than causes suffering. What can't be avoided can become a privileged opportunity for personal growth and serve as the most effective means of changing others, since we are more effective in weakness rather than in strength. Today's Gospel reminds us of the Christian call to prophecy, which includes sharing the fate of Jesus, who knew the pain of failure when trying to help those he cared about.

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