Strength in Weakness: 14th Sunday
SERMON AND CHRISTIAN ACT IN THE WORD –
Theme: “Strength in Weakness”-“In weakness, there is strength”: The Power of God is manifested through weakness. “MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR YOU”
Point of reflection: Every human being has his or her own weaknesses and strengths. More often from the Biblical point of view, God always chooses the weak and strengthen them. This is well reflected in the Scriptural readings of today and God is telling us that MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR YOU
First Reading: Ezekiel 2:2–5
Psalm: Psalm 123:1–4
Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 12:7–10
Gospel: Mark 6:1–6
Christian Act in Word of God “STRENGTH IN WEAKNESS”
My Grace is Sufficient for You”
This Sunday we reflect on the theme of strength in weakness. In our society strengths and weaknesses are usually considered in opposition to one another. However, in the biblical understanding, they are often presented as complimentary. They are one, there is strength in the weakness. What is important is to accept the weakness.
St Paul, when afflicted with his “thorn”, prayed to God and heard the words, “my grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness”. As in the case of the apostle, pain can teach us to turn to God whenever we experience weakness and suffering. We can draw upon God’s strength when we turn to God in persistent prayer. We must never deny or try to hide our pain from God, but openly acknowledge it in prayer, and seek consolation and strength in our faith.
Honest reflection on our strengths and weakness leads to self-awareness. In the company of others, we tend to talk only about our strengths, highlighting our success and talents. But true self-awareness is holistic in nature and helps us embrace our weaknesses. Therefore, we must never deceive ourselves with claims to perfection. God did not create perfect human beings, but human beings with a potential for perfection. To be complete, or perfect, we must acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses, and work to find a balance, and turn them both to our advantage.
Obstacles and shortcomings humble us. But they are often used as excuses for not doing what is required of us. All too often we say, “I have nothing to offer”, or “others are better than I”. Many say, “I am too shy or too afraid to share the word of God in public”. The biblical examples of Ezekiel and Paul challenge such excuses. Weakness can be overcome by a willing person; shortcomings are no excuse for inactivity and laxity. Even when we experience obstacles, today’s liturgy challenges us to find a way past what blocks or frightens us. As Christians we need self-awareness, to help us to understand that we are called to be instruments that God uses to reach out to his people. Our duty is to accept God’s invitation of being a prophet among the rebellious, the impudent and the unbelieving, and to testify to our faith, without hiding or compromising what we have received. Such compromises happen when we are afraid people will reject and despise us, because of our faults and imperfections.
A part of our calling as Christians is to share in the sufferings of Christ. Paul was keenly aware of that fact. Christ was rejected by his own, and could not work among them. But he did not abandon his work. As we recognise our own strengths and weaknesses, we are invited to change our perception of ourselves, and others, and believe that our efforts, even if seemingly futile, will bear good fruits. These might be known only to God and those who benefited from them. Strength works through weakness, and God works through both. Aware of this, we ought to continually have in mind Paul’s words, “I am content with my own weakness”. Such acceptance will make us versatile, and capable of dealing with all that life throws at us.
Sermon (Reflection): Today’s liturgical readings teach three important lessons, about weakness and adversity in the Christian life. The prophet Ezekiel’s story highlights that God’s mission must be carried out in all circumstances, and despite rejection. St Paul teaches that personal weaknesses and shortcomings do not necessarily impede effective apostleship or any work from God. On the contrary, these obstacles can be turned into advantages, as the apostle’s weakness demanded complete reliance on God for strength and guidance. Jesus Christ Himself suffered from adversity and rejection, stemming from rivalry and jealousy. While He was not affected by them personally, the Nazarenes so hindered God’s power that it became ineffective for them.
God’s power works miracles among those who are open, and willing to respond to Jesus with faith. This demonstrates that weakness, rejection, and obstacles, are never powerful enough to prevent God’s designs from being fulfilled. My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in our life, we have been rejected, we have faced obstacles, as human beings, we are weak in one way or another, today’s Biblical readings are offering us genuine trust and hope, with God, those rejections and obstacles will be turned to glory and a blessing to you as long as you trust in the Lord.
As Christians, considering the inevitability of adversity, Jesus Christ’s followers need to pray for God’s grace to turn our weaknesses, rejections, and obstacles into strength with the words of the Psalmist, “To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!”
The first reading (Cf.Ezekiel 2:2–5) contains a part of the prophetic call of Ezekiel. God addresses the prophet as “the son of man”, usually translated as “mortal”. The book of Ezekiel employs this term to emphasize that the prophet is an ordinary human being who has been chosen to announce the divine will and carry out God’s work. God describes the prophet’s mission with striking honesty, without hiding, or softening its harsh reality. Ezekiel is sent to a stubborn and rebellious people, who continue the obstinate and idolatrous practices of their ancestors. Hence, Ezekiel’s words will fall on deaf ears. His message will be disregarded and rejected. Still, God’s word must be delivered, even to an obstinate and foolish generation.
Embarking on his prophetic career Ezekiel knew that he will face a hard and bitter future. At the same time, he knew that he represents God and carries out God’s work. This awareness is to be his strength amid the trials of his ministry. In our ministry too, we also encounter hard times and trials but we need to turn to the Lord in prayer and get strength.
In 2 Corinthians the apostle Paul engages in a fierce and bitter dispute with the Corinthian community. Even though he was its founder, the apostle was disowned and rejected by his converts, who welcomed and pledged loyalty to other leaders. These “super apostles”, as Paul calls them, appeared capable of speaking more eloquently and persuasively than Paul himself (Cf. 2 Corinthians 11:5). As Christians, we too encounter rejection in different ways, some we are rejected by our family members, some we are rejected by our communities, but the message of St Paul is offering hope and encouragement.
St Paul responding to this most unfair treatment and apparent disloyalty, Paul writes a moving and remarkably honest passage. He begins by openly acknowledging his shortcomings, referring to a certain weakness which he calls a “thorn in the flesh”. It is impossible to know exactly what this “thorn” afflicting the apostle was. Many speculative and unfounded explanations are offered, without any firm conclusions. However, since this “thorn” afflicted Paul’s flesh, it almost certainly was some form of a physical ailment or disability. It also appears that this defect could be easily seen by others. Easily perceptible, this defect brought Paul humiliation, and perhaps even ridicule; it made many think less of Paul. Perhaps it was some form of speech impediment? Such a defect could lead the Corinthians to reject Paul in favour of more eloquent and appealing rival apostles.
In the end, Paul calls this “thorn” a “messenger of Satan”. In the Scripture, Satan is always understood as God’s adversary who impedes God’s work among the people. Thus, Satan’s messenger must be something that frustrated Paul’s apostolic efforts. Satan is also associated with bringing illness upon people (see Job 2:5; Luke 13:16), which makes it even more likely that the “thorn” was a physical flaw. Whatever it was, Paul’s affliction was a humiliation for him and made his ministry less effective and more difficult.
Paul repeatedly prayed to be rid of this “thorn”, yet God did not respond favourably to these requests. This made Paul seek for a deeper understanding of his apostleship and the role of obstacles and suffering in the Christian ministry. Hence, Paul embraced and boasted of his weaknesses as the evidence of God’s power working through him. Paradoxically, the weakness became the source of his strength, and his sufferings a sign of his union with Christ. After all, in Christ’s death the same paradoxical principle was at work. The cross, the instrument of humiliation, defeat, and death, was transformed, through God’s power, into a means of victory. Similarly, St Paul’s sufferings and defects, made his ministry effective, as they made him count on God’s power rather than his own strengths and potential.
Today too in our Christian life, we encounter “thorns”, we encounter “satans” in the form of human beings, but St Paul is telling us today that such encounters are blessings as in weakness we encounter the strength and we experience God’s glory. And God is saying MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR YOU.
Jesus’ homecoming narrated in the Gospel passage was not a successful one. Arriving in the village where he grew up, Nazareth, Jesus was immediately recognised by his folks as one of their own. His family was still there, and they spoke of him as “the son of Mary”, suggesting that Joseph had already died. But Jesus did not come for an unofficial family visit. He came with his disciples and entered the synagogue to teach. He was now an acknowledged teacher and a famous miracle worker. Even though his fellow villagers knew this very well, they refused to accept his new identity. The question, “where did this man get all this?” followed by inquiries about the source of Jesus’ wisdom and power, reveal that the people of Nazareth reacted to Jesus with jealousy. One of their own had become very successful, and they did not like it.
By calling him “a man” they refused him the honour he deserved as a teacher and miracle worker, as God’s emissary. Ironically, those who knew him best, understood him least. What blinded the Nazarenes was short-sightedness and jealousy, as often happens when one member of a group becomes more successful and important than others. Such rejection and refusal, so impeded the effectiveness of God’s power that Jesus could not perform any miracles there. However, the Nazarenes’ obstinacy did not impede God’s work in the world. Far from it, Jesus continued his mission among the surrounding villages whose inhabitants were obviously more receptive to God’s work than Jesus’ own folk.
In our religious life and our Christian life, sometimes we are jealousy of the success of others, we sometimes even question the success of other even to the point of creating stories for them, but God is offering us hope and that no matter jealousy may be or the rejection may be, God will be on your side and provides strength for your life.
Action: I will identify my weaknesses that give a response to the weaknesses of my body and spirit. How do I deal with my shortcomings and failures? What are my strengths and my weaknesses? How can I make them both work to my advantage? During this week I will carefully observe myself and write down a list of my strengths and weaknesses in order to understand myself in a holistic way, and do so in prayerful reflection.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank and glorify your wonderful name as You give us strength in our weaknesses. I accept that am weak, I praise and thank you for making me realize my limitations and weaknesses. For we know that without you we can do nothing, and our weaknesses will overpower and burden us. Give us strength to rise above our weaknesses and see them as opportunities to draw closer to you. Show us the way to use them to serve you and your people better, we ask this through your Son who lives and reigns with you forever and ever, Amen.