A Scriptural Reflection on the Readings for Sunday, July 8, 2012, the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time | Carl E. Olson
• Ez 2:2-5
• Ps 123:1-2, 2, 3-4
• 2 Cor 12:7-10
• Mk 6:1-6
“It is a mark of great mercy,” wrote St. Jerome, “that God sends him to such as these and that he does not despair of their salvation; and it is a mark of the trust of the prophet that he does not fear to go to such as these also.”
The great doctor was commenting on today’s reading from Ezekiel, but he could have just as well been referring to today’s Gospel reading. Both present a picture so common within both the Old Testament and the Gospels: a prophet of God being met with obstinance, disbelief, and rejection. Ezekiel, along with prophets such as Amos and Jeremiah (who we will hear from in the next two Sundays), took on the daunting work—often reluctantly—of proclaiming the truth to a people hostile to truth and dismissive of God’s law.
The work of the prophet, it’s important to remember, was not primarily about foretelling the future, but about forthtelling the truth, especially the truth about God. Jean Cardinal Danilou, in The Advent of Salvation (Sheed & Ward, 1950), explained that a prophet, in the Bible, was “a man whom the Holy Spirit introduces into the hidden designs of God so that he can be their witness till death.” Prophecy, in this context, was “the understanding and making known of God’s view of history.” And in the unique prophetic work of Christ, prophecy included the revelation of the inner life of the Father and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
Ezekiel was told by God to declare to the rebellious people: “Thus says the Lord God!” Prior to the Incarnation, the author of Hebrews wrote, God spoke in “many and various ways,” but “in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son” (Heb. 1:1-2). Rather than mere men speaking the words of God, the Word of God speaks to men as a man. And it is precisely the humanity—the ordinary, everyday humanity—that is a so bewildering and even angering to the people of Jesus’ home town, Nazareth. Wasn’t he just a carpenter, with slivers in his hands and sweat on his brow? Was he not the son of Mary, whose husband had died many years before?
To most of those who had known Jesus his entire life, he was simply too ordinary and normal to be extraordinary and unique. Yes, they were initially astonished when he taught in the synagogue with such startling authority. But they were soon suspicious of his knowledge and wisdom: “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him?” Of course, those questions are just as central today as they were two thousand years ago. Where, indeed, did this man get his wisdom? Or could it be that he himself is Wisdom, the source of all truth? Yes, Jesus is the wisdom of God, given for our sanctification and salvation (cf., 1 Cor. 1:22-31).
Jesus knew well that to be a prophet was to be a martyr. His great “woes” in the Gospel of Matthew focus on the hypocrisy and bloody deceit of those who gave lip service to the law, but persecuted and often killed the prophets sent by God (Matt. 23:29-37). Thus the sad and knowing words, apparently taken from a well-known proverb, uttered by Christ to his unbelieving neighbors: “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.
Are we any better than the people of Nazareth? Do we, seeing and receiving the Eucharist each Sunday, sometimes take it for granted? Are we tempted to think it is just ordinary bread and simple wine? In looking upon the outward appearance do we fail to see inner reality?
Yes, Jesus had slivers—from carrying the Cross. He had sweat on his brow—from the agony of his Passion. Now, seated in glory, he is sent to us—“such as these”—because he does not despair of our salvation, but grants it freely.
(This "Opening the Word" column originally appeared in the July 5, 2009, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)