14th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle B)

Readings:
Ezekiel 2:2-5
Psalm 123:1-4
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Mark 6:1-6

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of the Readings: The Difficult Ministry of God's Priestly Representatives
In the Old Testament, the holy prophets spoke the words of God to the people, but their message was not always appreciated.  In the First Reading, God sent the priest-prophet Ezekiel to be His "voice" to the covenant people in the Babylonian exile—a people "hard of face and obstinate of heart."  God told him to preach his message to the people "whether they heed or resist."  As God's supreme prophet, Jesus also experienced the same kind of rejection as God's Old Testament prophets.  Even the people of His hometown of Nazareth exhibited closed minds and obstinacy of hearts when they rejected His teaching in the Gospel Reading.  And in the Second Reading, St. Paul also faced personal struggles and hardships in his mission to carry forth the Gospel of salvation.  Each of our readings reminds us of the warning Jesus gave His disciples at the end of His Beatitudes teaching when He said: "Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every king of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven" (Mt 5:11).

Our priests today face many of these same struggles; for example in the resistance and even animosity of their congregations when they preach on evils that have become acceptable in much of modern society, like the various forms of sexual immorality, divorce, contraception, and abortion.  Too many of our priests shy away from these difficult topics in their desire to be "popular" with their communities.  Pray for our priests in their difficult mission to fearlessly be the "voice" of God in preaching the teachings of Mother Church despite the "hard faces and obstinate hearts" of the people to whom they minister.  Pray that our priestly ministers will have the courage to preach the truth of the Word whether their congregations "heed or resist" and that their parishioners "living in exile" in this world remain obedient to the Word and not become a "rebellious house" like the Israelites in the Babylonian exile.  Pray that all Christians will submit themselves to the "voice" of the Lord through His priestly ministers, and that their cry will be the same as that in today's Psalms response: "Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy."

The First Reading Ezekiel 2:2-5 ~ God's Prophet to Israel in Exile
2 As the LORD spoke to me, the spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard the one who was speaking 3 say to me: Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day.  4 Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you.  But you shall say to them: Thus says the LORD God!  5 And whether they heed or resist—for they are a rebellious house—they shall know that a prophet has been among them.

The prophets Daniel and Ezekiel were prophets of Yahweh who received their call to a prophetic ministry outside of the Holy Land.  The Babylonians took as hostages young people of the royal family and other important families of Judah in 605 BC to ensure the loyalty of the Kingdom of Judah as a vassal people.  Young Daniel and his friends were taken at that time.  Later, the Babylonians deposed King Jehoiachin of Judah and initiated the first major deportation of the king and his family together with ten thousand citizens of the nation of Judah into Babylonian lands in 597 BC.  It was at that time that the priest Ezekiel joined many of the citizens of Jerusalem who were taken into exile and settled in Tel-abib on the Chebar River in Babylonia where he received his prophetic call in the 5th year following his exile (as the ancients counted with no zero place value) in c. 593 BC (2 Kng 24:6-16; Ez 1:1, 4; 3:15).  According to 29:17, Ezekiel prophesied for 22 years in exile, receiving his last prophetic message in March-April 571.  He is believed to have been buried in a tomb at al-Kifl, near modern Hilla, Iraq.

Today's passage is an account of Ezekiel's commissioning as Yahweh's holy prophet after he experienced an inaugural vision (Ez 1:4-2:8a).  He was prostrate with his face on the ground after receiving the vision when three events occurred in quick succession: God spoke to him, the Spirit entered him, and he was set upon his feet (2:2).  The call for service that followed demanded an erect servant, anointed by the Spirit of God, ready to listen and obey. 

and I heard the one who was speaking 3 say to me: Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day.  4 Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you.
God addressed Ezekiel by identifying his humanity, using the title "son of man."  It is a title Jesus will use to identify Himself in His humanity in the Gospels as well as a title that connects Him with the Prophet Daniel's vision of the divine Messiah who looks like a man in Daniel 7:13.  This title is followed by an announcement of God's intention to send Ezekiel to be His "voice" to the children of Israel in exile who God identifies as rebels who are the descendants of rebels (referring to the rebellious members of the Exodus generation and their descendants).  It is interesting that God refers to His people in exile as Israelites instead of Judahites.  It is probably because the people of the nation of Judah are the only descendants of Israel who still exist as a unified people since the other 10 tribes were sent into exile in Assyrian lands over a century earlier in 722 BC and were assimilated into the Gentile world. 

Notice the three ways Yahweh describes the Israelites/Judahites in verses 3-4:

  1. Rebels 
  2. Hard of face
  3. Obstinate of heart

That they are "rebels" describes them as a disloyal people who refuse their allegiance to their sovereign Lord, Yahweh; it is an allegiance they swore by oath at Sinai in the ratification of the Sinai Covenant (Ex 24).  That they are "hard of face" describes the exterior manifestation of their stubbornness.  That they are "obstinate of heart" describes the interior condition of their disobedience.

But you shall say to them: Thus says the LORD God!  5 And whether they heed or resist—for they are a rebellious house—they shall know that a prophet has been among them.
If what God has told Ezekiel about his target audience isn't bad enough, next God tells His newly commissioned prophet that he cannot expect a positive response from the people.  However, whether they "heed or resist" he is still to preach God's message so the people will know that God cared enough about them to send a prophet.  That they are a "rebellious house" is an indication that it is likely they will not listen and exposes the continuing condition of the people's defiance.  The term also emphasis their opposition to serving as God's obedient people of the "house of Israel" who are members of the "household of God".  Despite their experience of suffering in exile, the Israelites are continuing to be an insubordinate covenant people that refuses to listen to their God and divine King when He speaks to them through His priest-prophet (see Ps 78:5-8; Is 30:9-14)

Responsorial Psalm 123:1-4 ~ Reliance on the Lord
The response is: "Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy."
1 To you I lift up my eyes who are enthroned in heaven, 2a as the eyes of servants are on the hands of their masters.
Response:
2b As the eyes of a maid are on the hands of her mistress, so are our eyes on the LORD, our God, till he have pity on us.
Response:
3 Have pity on us, O LORD, have pity on us, for we are more than sated with contempt; 4 our souls are more than sated with the mockery of the arrogant, with the contempt of the proud.
Response:

This psalm is called "a psalm of ascents" and is the prayer of a pilgrim who has made the journey up to the holy city of Jerusalem and is entering the Temple.  On his journey he lifts up his eyes to the Lord in the heavens to make a personal appeal for His help (verse 1).  This initial personal appeal is followed by the faithful people's expression of trust (verse 2) and a petition for God to show mercy because they have suffered the contempt and scorn of non-believers.

 For Christians, this prayer has deeper meaning when addressed to Christ Jesus who has ascended into heaven.  The Lord Jesus being "enthroned in heaven" (verse 1) means that in His Ascension to the Father He transcends all created things and has total dominion over heaven and earth.  "Our eyes are on the LORD our God" as we continue to look for Him as we suffer in our earthly existence, and we await the fullness of our salvation when He comes again in His Parousia or Second Coming to gather His elect and to judge the proud and arrogant (verses 2-4).

The Second Reading 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ~ Suffering for Christ
Brothers and sisters: 7 That I, Paul might not become too elated, because of the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.  8 Three times I begged the Lord about this, that is might leave me, 9 but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness."  I will rather boast most gladly of my weakness, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.  10 Therefore, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

In humility, St. Paul refers not only to the insults and other hardships he has endured as Christ's minister but also to his suffering in some affliction that God has allowed him to experience to ensure that his supernatural gifts did not make him proud and boastful.  Paul does not reveal the exact nature of his "throne in the flesh", but some Church Fathers and modern commentators suggest that it was some painful and humiliating physical aliment.  It is probably the same condition he refers to in Galatians 4:13-15.  It may have been a condition brought on by his initial loss of sight after his blinding vision of the resurrected Christ in his conversion experience, since he says if the Galatians could they would have given him their eyes.

St. Paul attributes his affliction to "an angel from Satan."  This suggests that the disability could have been seen as an obstacle to his mission to evangelize.  Paul says that three times he asked the Lord to heal him, and three times the Lord told him to endure because God's grace was enough to enable him to live with his affliction.  Paul says that his weakness in his physical condition and his submission to the will of God for his life has made him stronger than ever in his faith in the Lord Jesus and in his commitment to his mission.  He thanks God that his weakness has made the grace of God greater in his life, since he knows that his missionary work is not his success but can boast that it is Christ working through him.

Using this passage as an example, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that God sometimes permits certain kinds of hardships and sufferings in order to draw out a greater good (Commentary on 2 Chr, ad loc.).  For example in Paul's case, in order to protect His apostle from the sin of pride (the root of all vices), God allowed His chosen apostle (and others who serve Him) to be humiliated by weakness in an affliction.  In this way, the humbling experience allows God's servant to recognize that he/she cannot stand strong and firm by his/her own efforts.  It is in these conditions that we must trust in God's providence and take assurance from St. Paul who wrote, We know that all things work for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28).

The Gospel of Mark 6:1-6 ~ Jesus is Rejected by His Neighbors at Nazareth
1 He departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples.  2 When the Sabbath came he began to teach in the Synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished.  They said, "Where did this man get all this?  What kind of wisdom has been given him?  What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!  3 Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?  And are not his sisters here with us?"  And they took offense at him.  4 Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house."  5 So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.  6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Jesus came to His hometown of Nazareth and attended the Sabbath day (Saturday) service in the local Synagogue.  Nazareth is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew Nasret which may be derived from the Hebrew word "consecrate" (nazir) or "branch" (netzer/nezer).  The town is located on the south western side of the Sea of Galilee about 15 miles from the tip of the southern shore.  Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament but an inscription naming Nazareth has been found at Caesarea that dates to the 1st century AD.  The town of Nazareth was considered to be insignificant in Jesus' day (Jn 1:45-46).

As a Jew who was obedient to the commands of the Sinai Covenant, it was Jesus' custom to keep the Sabbath obligation by coming to the Synagogue (Ex 20:8-11; 31:12-17; 34:21; 35:1-3; Dt 6:12-15; Lk 4:16) when He wasn't in Jerusalem to attend the Temple worship services.  Worship expressed in sacrifice took place in the Jerusalem Temple; however, for those communities that were located too far away from the Temple, worship through prayer and praise took place in the Synagogue where the Sacred Scriptures were read and reflected upon.  The president of the Synagogue was authorized to ask any male of the covenant to read and expound on the Scripture to the congregation.  Jesus was invited to stand and read the Scripture for that Saturday Sabbath service and to offer a teaching on the reading (verse 2a).  St. Mark does not record the reading or the exchange between Jesus and the congregation that is found in St. Luke's Gospel where Jesus declares that the prophetic passage He read from the Isaiah 61:1-2 is fulfilled in Him (Lk 4:16-21), but Mark does record the congregation's reaction.

3 Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?  And are not his sisters here with us?"
Instead of being favorably impressed by the wisdom of Jesus' teaching, they were angry that one who they consider an ordinary man and their equal has dared to put Himself above them.  It is interesting that they call Jesus the "son of Mary" instead of the "son of Joseph."  It is customary to name a man or woman through their father and not their mother.  That they mention Mary may be because Joseph has been dead for a long time, or they know the story that Joseph was not Jesus' biological father.  Jesus' kinsmen are also named in Matthew 13:55 as James, Joses (the shortened form of Joseph), Simon, and Judas (Jude in the shortened form).  These "brothers" and "sisters" are kinsmen/kinswomen who could be the children of Joseph by a previous marriage, cousins, or even uncles/aunts.  It has always been the teaching of the Church that Mary did not have other children.  See the document "Did Jesus have Brothers and Sisters?" and the Four Marian Dogmas concerning Mary's perpetual virginity.

And they took offense at him.  4 Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house."
The Greek word translated "offense" is skandalizomai, meaning "to stumble over an obstacle"; it is the word from which we get our English word "scandal".  Knowing Jesus in his ordinary life became a "stumbling stone" to them in accepting Jesus as an agent of God (see Is 8:14; 1 Cor 1:23; 1 Pt 2:7-8).  Jesus had lived such an ordinary life among the people of His community that they found it incredible that He should be anything special.  The prophet Isaiah foretold that the "Suffering Servant" of God, prior to His great work of atonement, would grow up unrecognized by his own people (Is 53:2).  The point is that our Redeemer is one of us (Heb 2:16-18).  Jesus uses what must have been a common proverb in verse 4 to explain His rejection (see Lk 4:24; Jn 4:44).  Like God's prophets before Him, Jesus is ridiculed and rejected for preaching the word of God among His kinsmen/countrymen.  Receiving such a negative response to preaching the coming of the Kingdom of the Messiah is the warning that Jesus gave His own disciples (see Mt 5:11-12). 

5 So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.  6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Jesus is amazed at their lack of faith that actually hinders Him in working miracles on their behalf.  It wasn't that Jesus did not have the power to heal because of their unbelief.  There is no limit to God's power, but God respects our free-will choices and healing is a cooperative effort involving the faith of the person to be healed coupled with divine intervention. Verses 5-6 highlight the necessity of faith for God's work in our lives and is why Jesus warns people to "have faith" before He heals (i.e., Mk 5:36).  In this passage, Jesus is amazed by the lack of faith of His neighbors and later He will be saddened by the "little faith" of his own disciples (Mt 8:26), but He will also compliment and feel admiration for the faith of two Gentiles: a Roman centurion and a Canaanite woman (Mt 8:10; 15:28).

Catechism References:
2 Corinthians 12:9 (CCC 268, 273, 1508)
Mark 6:3 (CCC 500); 6:5 (CCC 699); 6:6 (CCC 2610)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015