Frances writes on this coming Sunday’s readings :- I suppose it is a truism to suggest, as does our gospel, that we will go miles and spend huge amounts of money to see some wonder or spectacle, whilst completely failing to recognise the glories of God on our own doorstep. I recognise this in myself as I happily fly off to Italy for Roman remains, but don’t appreciate fully the architectural splendours of Oxford. ‘It’s much the same with one’s own people,’ Jesus remarked pithily as those who knew his origins (Mark 6:1-6) rejected or even complained about his God-given powers. He was in fact so close to them, so much a part of their community, that their innate rural conservatism and its expectations of people blinded them to his abilities. Immediately before this in Mark’s gospel we have the miracles of the raising from the dead of Jairus’ daughter and the healing of the woman with the 12 year haemorrhage, but that simply didn’t count; carpenter’s sons should stick to carpentry! No wonder they had not taken well to his cousin John the Baptist either. What is it then that so blinds us to the presence of God among us?
Is it jealousy, that we wish that we too had these abilities? Or is it that our supposed knowledge of a person so gifted, so graced can scarcely be conceived of as coming from our own community? Are we all in fact suspicious of the different; not simply those of different races or upbringing; but those insiders who don’t fit the norm? Why was it that when Jesus healed the demoniac in the Decapolis, on the other side of the Jordan, the man would become a missionary proclaiming the coming kingdom of God, but that his ‘own’ treated him with profound suspicion amounting to rejection and distrust? It is certainly true that ‘local boys made good’, either in business or even more so in academia can find it very difficult to find their place in their home and family, quite simply, they no longer fit in. This being the case, how can we possibly react favourably to the physical presence of the divine among us?
I suspect that in the end the holy ones, be they a St Francis or Jesus himself, had quite simply to accept this barrier and work to break it down, not fearing the consequences and their apparent failure. We find this to have been the case in our reading from Ezekiel (2:2-5) “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to the rebels…..whether they listen or not…this set of rebels shall know there is a prophet among them.” What Judaism has recorded is the difficulties their major prophets experienced in fulfilling their God-given role to their own people. It is not for nothing that the Book of Jonah records the acceptance of the pagan Ninevites of the prophet’s forecast of doom unless they repented; Israelites almost to a man appear throughout the centuries to have rejected their prophets when they tried to draw them back to God and as Jesus so wisely recorded, murdered the majority of them. Quite clearly, it is not the lot of true prophets or messiah’s to be accepted by those who should have recognised them, indeed, their inclusion in the canon of Jewish scripture can only be post mortem, as future generations finally recognised their truthfulness and significance. The lot of prophet and true messiah is nevertheless to tell the truth, to proclaim God’s message despite the reception they receive, even despite it; which is why a knowledge of history, an appreciation of the past, is so important. It is also why we are given by God that sense of introspection and conscience which enables us finally to face what we are truly like, and of our need for God.
This is true also of the prophet or apostle, the witness to Christ, as Paul recognised in our reading from 2nd Corinthians (12:7-10). It would be so easy, wouldn’t it for such ‘specialists’ in the faith to become pushy, secure in their superior knowledge. Paul recognised this propensity when he spoke of the thorn in the flesh, given to beat me and stop me from getting too proud. In the end, his entire reliance, like ours, and ultimately that of the human Jesus too, has to be on God himself, all Paul can find to boast about are his weaknesses, his sufferings in the service of the Lord. Modelling himself on the passion of the Saviour, here he really goes to town, as chapter 11 of this letter records in graphic detail. Greco-Roman’s to a man were boasters, even going so far as to record their gifts to their city states on stone so that their glory endured down through the centuries. Blowing one’s own trumpet was second nature to this society and Paul knew that to get a hearing he had to compete in this most acquisitive of societies. He does so by turning the tables on their most precious means of personal identity, the ‘honour society’, precisely by recording his weaknesses not his successes as his claim to fame; and in the end this is how we remember Paul, via his teaching on his sufferings in the cause of the gospel. Ultimately, all we can do too is place our failed and often insignificant lives at the feet of Christ, following the one who in the end said “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”