Our readings this week really speak hope to us. And that is a good thing—we need to have hope that we can do what God is calling us to in our lives as Christians. We need to have the strength to believe as Julian of Norwich was fond of saying, “All will be well and all will be well.” It seems we simply have to keep our eyes on our loving God as the psalmist says today, and for us, that means Jesus, to know our path and what our life will mean as believers. The wisdom of a political prisoner in the Philippines might be good for us to reflect on in this regard: “Those who would give light must endure burning.” In other words, it won’t always be easy. Amid the praise for Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, comes the comments of those who can’t see beyond their own needs. Our president, Barack Obama has known his share and more of criticism from those whose eyes can’t see beyond the present, from those whose hearts aren’t big enough to include all, as we try to do here, “with a place at the table for everyone.”
We have the short, but very powerful reading from the prophet Ezekiel in this week’s readings that at first glance appears to tell us little, but on a second glance, we get the kernel of hope we so often need when trying to do God’s work among seemingly stubborn people—God says, “Whether they listen or not—they will know that a prophet has been among them.” With God’s grace, the prophet in us and others will not be able to completely put aside the Spirit’s message when spoken.
A word on being a prophet: Sometimes I think many of us believe that being a prophet is a thing of the past—we think of a few “greats” that the Church lifts up for us; Isaiah, Ezekiel-today, in the first reading, of Jesus, of course. But, truly friends, the Spirit is continually renewing the face of the earth and each of us is called to the prophet role by nature of our baptisms, to speak truth as we are given it for the good of all.
Sometimes the Spirit will sneak up on us, giving us strength we didn’t know that we had. Have you ever been compelled to say something in the face of a present evil that no one was addressing, and once said, you wondered, where did that come from? The Spirit, my friends, the Spirit! We must come to humbly accept and appreciate the Spirit of Jesus wanting to renew the face of the earth through us!
We see Paul struggling with the task too—he is reluctant when it comes to bearing with the side effects of being a prophet, even though he does not claim this distinction for himself. He lives with some sort of affliction that he prays God will take away only to hear, “my grace is sufficient for you.” And as Paul lives out his call—his life in Christ, he comes to be able to proclaim, “When I am powerless, it is then that I am strong.” We could well take up his prayer in our daily trials as well.
I believe each of us can point to times in our lives when we did the right thing against all odds and felt strength beyond ourselves. Likewise, we have all had experiences when we felt the task was more than we could do, but something compelled us just the same. At these moments then, we must remember the psalmist’s words of wisdom, “So our eyes are on you, O God.” And then we look to Jesus, our model, our brother, our friend. Even Jesus, God’s First Born was not without scorn—the people he would have thought he could have expected support from, turned away or at least didn’t understand—his neighbors and perhaps some of his family members.
They couldn’t believe because they knew him—they had their ideas about who he was and it didn’t include being a prophet—a teacher—a miracle worker—certainly not the Messiah. It is perhaps a good meditation to think about and pray over, of just what it was like for Jesus to be rejected in his own home town. His human nature had to have experienced the pain of that rejection. On the one hand, “their lack of faith astounded Jesus,” the scriptures tell us. His thoughts might have ran something like—can you not look at the fruit—see that what I am doing is for the good of people? Can you not see that we must strive to see that all of God’s creatures have the good things of this earth—that all are free, accepted and loved for who they are? Can you not see?—Jesus seems to be imploring.
On an even deeper level, he must have felt their rejection of him—of his person—of his truth and of the reason he laid his life out for them in the first place. Because it wasn’t about his personal need to be the messiah or his desire for power, even though, in his humanity, those temptations were no doubt real as in our own lives. We have to struggle as did he with the right reasons for our decisions—is it about me or a greater good? And this kind of reflection is so very important so as to gain strength, like our brother, Jesus, to do the right thing now, in our time!
The Scriptures cry out with Jesus’ purpose—his frustration with his very human followers—“I’ve been with you all this time and still you don’t get it!”—or with the people in general—his weeping over Jerusalem for not understanding the message of Abba God and his own love for them. His humanity crying out in the garden, like the prophets, like Paul would later pray—like us, “Take this cup, this affliction from me—I am not strong enough!” Yet, the slow insistent, loving answer comes back from Abba God—my grace is sufficient—be strong, I am with you—I will not leave you. I think in the midst of our suffering and pain, we forget at times how Jesus suffered and if we remembered and asked for his help, we would have such strength, such hope, such determination to do the right thing—to persevere in goodness. I forgot all this for a time this past week and found myself praying with Paul, “I know the right thing to do, but I didn’t do it!”
I think sometimes in remembering that Jesus was and is God, we forget or don’t give enough attention to the fact that he was also human, fully human. This mystery of Jesus’ divine and human natures somehow existing in tandem, can be a bit to get our heads around, but we have these same natures too, that of humanity and of God, and when we are truly human— in our best selves, as God created us; we are most like God.
So, we come back to hope. We see in the lives of the prophets, like Ezekiel this week, like Paul, like Jesus, and we think of others like Mary, his mother, Mary of Magdala, his friend—prophets all, taking on the tasks of priesthood, discipleship and servant hood—tasks that each of us are called to as well, by the simple fact that we name ourselves “Christian.”
We are told that Jesus was unable to do much in Nazareth because of the people’s lack of faith. Some of his neighbors, friends, perhaps even some of his family couldn’t see beyond the confines of their narrow minds to recognize the work of God in their midst. How many of us miss the work of God all around us in the goodness of daily and random acts of kindness done for us, for others—the challenges we are called to—to do likewise? When I pray with others, my prayer often includes a plea that this person would know that God is with them, loving them and that they would be aware of God’s love through all the good people who come into their lives, doing bits of good. We must have eyes of faith!
Yesterday, we all remembered and celebrated the Fourth of July, a time of celebration for our country, remembering the courage and determination of a people to be free—our people—our forebears. Times of celebration mark our lives and make them special. Each of us remembers the big times during the year, Christmas-Easter-Memorial Day-Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. But how about the rest of the year?—do we remember to celebrate life-health-peace-family-love and caring-faith-goodness and so much more on a somewhat regular basis? A present day prophet, Joan Chittister once said, “The question is not, what should we celebrate, but, what shouldn’t we celebrate? Every occasion is an occasion. It’s not the date on the calendar that matters; it’s the cognizance in our own soul of the amount of goodness around us that is in question.” The earth around us is so full friends, this time of year—so much growth and beauty—hopefully, we stop and marvel at it all!
Jesus found a lack of faith, a bit of mean-spiritness even, an inability to believe the best—to see the miracle that love gives birth to. We should pray that our faith would be strong, with the clear knowledge that “God’s grace is sufficient” and therefore allow the miracles to unfold in our lives through the Spirit of Jesus for the People of God. What will the miracles be? Which ones will we become aware of? May our eyes be open to all the good around us—miracles all! Amen? Amen!