We must keep eyes fixed on Lord in radical dependence
By Shawn Reeves
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time / July 4
Ezekiel 2:2-5; Psalm 123:1-2,2,3-4; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6a
Many of us rebel against being dependent on others. But once released from certain reliances, we discover our own insufficiencies, and the appeal is less than envisioned. Radical independence is supremely alluring until faced with its actual complexities.
Most commentary we encounter about today’s Gospel focuses on the line, “a prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house,” emphasizing the human propensity to mitigate the significance of someone with whom we have always been familiar, permanently deeming them “ordinary” in our hearts and unworthy of praise or remark. However, is there something more to the disposition of Jesus’ kin and community than mere bias?
Their intimate knowledge of Jesus in the ordinary circumstances of life before His public ministry (what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls His “hidden life”) certainly has formed the attitudes of those of His “native place.” But that, alone, is not what causes their rebellion against Him, because he was still able to cure “a few sick people” clearly not resistant to His public identity despite having known him beforehand. What sets these few apart from the detractors? In short, those healed were not content to let things remain as they are.
With wise humility, St. Paul confesses his struggle with the enigmatic “thorn in the flesh” which he says was given to him to temper him, lest he become “too elated” or “too exalted,” as another translation puts it. For St. Paul, this circumstance is intentionally permitted by God in order to prevent St. Paul from elevating himself in his own esteem due to “the abundance of revelations” given him. For him, it is a divine preventative measure to keep him from a sense of self-sufficiency, a contentment with himself as he is, apart from continual dependence on God.
WANT, NEED, CRISIS ILLUMINATE
However, the majority in today’s Gospel were seemingly invested in Jesus remaining merely “the carpenter,” merely “the son of Mary,” merely a brother of James and the other relatives listed. “Hard of face and obstinate of heart,” the preservation of the present circumstances was their concern, “and they took offense at him.”
Contentment often breeds complacency, while the state of want frequently promotes an urgency for the new and a reexamination of the world around us. Mired in unfulfilled need, one meets the demand to look outside oneself for solutions and recognize (in hope) our foundational dependence on God.
In contrast to those of his native place, the people Jesus encounters in the previous chapter of this Gospel possess one common distinguishing characteristic. They all are in a state of struggle: a possessed man living among tombs, a synagogue leader with a dying daughter, a woman with a chronic hemorrhage. In the absence of contentment, they are poised to persistently reevaluate their lives and welcome God’s influence no matter the form. It is, perhaps, the most fundamental disposition necessary for effective evangelization and an orientation that the majority of those in Jesus’ native place lacked.
Almost universally, those in the Gospel narratives who have much and are contented see little need for Jesus in their lives, and even those few disciples who are well off (like Levi/Matthew and Zacchaeus) sensed deeply and honestly their spiritual poverty ever in contrast with the security of their material wealth. In other words, they, too, were in a state of struggle and yearning for something to alter their lives.
Want, need, and crisis immediately illumine our limitations and weaknesses, which is part of their sting. In the face of our own weaknesses we can either dismiss them as fiction, obsess over them in despair, or (like St. Paul) permit them to instigate a spirit of dependence on God, ruminating in our hearts those words — “power is made perfect in weakness.” Contentment in the sufficiency of grace is the only secure contentment. Trust in anything else will eventually make us “obstinate of heart” and our souls a “rebellious house,” leaving us taking offense at Him. Faith is keeping our eyes fixed on the Lord in radical dependence.
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 attend St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Thomasboro.