Jesus allows us to come to him freely
By: By Shawn Reeves
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time/July 5
Ezekiel 2:2-5; Psalm 123:1-2,2,3-4; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6
Directing RCIA on a college campus, I meet a lot of converts, many of whom were raised in a Protestant faith. I myself was raised in a Protestant faith, so I understand the difficulty such a choice imposes — the emotions, the potential frustrations to friendships, the jarring sense that perhaps the faith presented in one’s upbringing wasn’t the whole picture — the sensation that maybe much was left out, and now I am found in a position in which Truth demands that I entirely reorient my approach to what the Gospel is all about. For many in this situation, a spiritual epiphany has sparked, a deeper insight into God’s revelation has awakened, and both joy and challenge are suddenly thrust upon them.
But one need not be a convert to know well that God’s revelations often bring as much struggle as consolation. God’s Word breaks in, revealing His ways, and we find ourselves caught off guard: “Come to me in prayer — you have been neglecting it.” “You have made your career more important than your family — correct this.” “That sin you like will not bring you real happiness.” Behaviors must change; hearts and minds must be redirected; lives must be adjusted. But, so often in these moments, we prove ourselves to be “a rebellious house,” and we “take offense” to God’s revelation.
There are only two occasions in the Bible in which Jesus is said to be “amazed.” One is when he was amazed at the great faith of the centurion who believed Jesus could heal his servant from afar. The other is in this Sunday’s Gospel, when he is amazed at the lack of faith of those nearest to him.
Often, when we are confronted with God’s heavenly revelation we seek out worldly explanations to remold it into our preferred worldview and priorities. Like our spiritual ancestors, “hard of face and obstinate of heart,” we tend to “revolt” against those revelations that don’t sit well with us, that challenge us. Jesus’ audience in his native place are no different, opting to see Jesus only through natural eyes rather than spiritual and electing to dismiss the heavenly identity that should be apparent in favor of seeing in Jesus a merely earthly identity.
The Jesus they preferred is the Jesus they received. No “mighty deed” was done, no manifestation of His heavenly power. Their lack of faith could not tolerate the revelation of a heavenly Jesus.
From the somber tone of the conclusion of this Gospel passage, it would seem that Jesus intended to do far more there than “curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.” But the people were closed off to it. They could only stomach a merely earthly Jesus. St. Augustine famously wrote, “God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1847).
Jesus reveals himself in concert with our freedom, not in opposition to it. Because of this, Jesus opens Himself to the vulnerability of misunderstanding and rejection, then and today. He allows us to come to him by freedom rather than force and risks us limiting Him in our imaginations and missing what St. Paul discovered — “power is made perfect in weakness.”
Those of Jesus’ native place could not look past the apparent “weakness” and ordinariness of His humanity, and so they missed the perfection of His power. In contrast, St. Paul is found meditating on the Lord’s revelation, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
Jesus has revealed himself to Paul. The Lord has come to dwell in the “native place” of his soul and was able to perform a mighty deed there. Weakness is celebrated as strength, for the power of Christ dwells in him. The challenge of faith has been freely accepted.
SHAWN REEVES has served as the director of religious education at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign since 2001. He and his family are members of St. Malachy Parish in Rantoul.