14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
July 8, 2012
We all know what it means … to be ignored, to not even be considered, to be rejected. Scriptures is full of such stories of rejection, with no less than the Lord Jesus Christ as the centerpiece. At times, you and I can feel – rightly or wrongly – that we are the poster boy or poster girl of such painful experiences.
I had my own brush with such a “forgettable” chapter in my life … yes – forgettable in theory at least, but not quite in reality! One does not easily give up on such debilitating memories. Human nature tends to hold on to such things, and our fallen nature makes it even more difficult indeed, to “let by-gones be by-gones” – easier said than done, despite what they say about Christian forgiveness.
Today, the day of the Lord, the 14th in ordinary time, I would like to think I am one with everyone – and, I mean everyone – who ever felt the uncomfortable feeling of being resisted, being refused, being unwanted. Welcome to the club of humanity in general!
Welcome, too, to the story of our lives, a story that we share deeply with that of the people of God. Ezekiel knew exactly what he was getting into. He tells us so himself. God called him thus: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, rebels who have rebelled against me.”
Rebels twice over! Rebels who have rebelled against God! Rebels whose favorite phrase was not any different from the original, quintessential rebel, Satan, who said that most notorious line: “non serviam!” – “I will not serve!”
Yes … for all our personal sad and sob stories of rejection from others, stories that we all can rehash and recount with passion and panache at the slightest provocation, there is one part of the story we would rather not tell and retell – that part in us that said, “No, I will not serve” … No, I will not follow … I refuse … I reject … I won’t do as told!”
St. Paul, for all his personal sanctity, also had his share of that “thorn in the flesh.” Whatever it was, since he gives no details, it would be safe to assume, that it was some kind of situation that kept him in pain for long stretches of time, something that, in American parlance, was simply something “that won’t go away.”
I had my own share of this “thorn in the flesh” via my “auto immunity” reactions that manifest themselves in chronic skin rashes and itchy patches, that just sprang out of nowhere 8 years ago. I did worse than Paul, who begged the Lord only three times. I do not just beg. I complain … I rant.
Today, my heart goes out to all my readers and hearers who are currently the object of such rejection on the part of others. I am one with you all, who currently are doing so much good and yet receive so much flak, so much uncalled for criticism, so much resistance. My thoughts go to fellow priests who can’t seem to jell with certain powerful blocks from among the laity who act as self-appointed “gate-keepers” and preservers of even some unholy “traditions” in the parish. My thoughts go, too, to lay people who are ignored and even at times, humiliated by their pastors, who feel threatened with their presence and good ideas. My heart also goes out to those who, on account of the machinations and influential manipulative tactics of those who are very well connected with those in power, suffer innocently, and are condemned unjustly, like Padre Pio of Pietrelcina suffered, like St. Benedict Menni suffered – like I suffered at just about the same time, my physical version of “thorn in the flesh” began to afflict my skin.
I have a personal message to give them – no, not mine, but God’s! I have the strength of character and dedication and commitment of Ezekiel to firm up their sagging spirits. I have the honesty and sincerity of St. Paul, who confessed, despite his continued pain, in his faith in the Lord who told him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
A priest over the past almost 30 years, I have been there; done that. Name it, and I can most likely tell you I have undergone something at least similar.
I have the power of Christ’s love to share with everyone of you – the same Christ who was suspected, mistrusted, and resisted: “Where did this man get all this?” That was the best line his town mates could utter. What could a son of a lowly carpenter do?
But he had the last word. When he died and everybody who was somebody then thought they had gotten rid of him forever. But He rose from the dead. As he promised! As he said!
He talks to you personally today, as He talks to me personally even as I talk to you. “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place.” My thorn in the flesh is still in place. It still makes me suffer. Some people still do not believe in me, even as by far the great majority of those I deal with do. But it is no longer the most important question. The most important question now for you and me is simply this: Will you now continue to resist the Lord, or will you now heed Him and His word?
Know this for certain, “whether you heed or resist,” “they will [eventually] know that a prophet has been in [our] midst.”