Reflection on the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ezek. 2:2-5; Cor. 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6
It’s interesting that these particular readings should turn up for us on this day that is always a day of celebration of our beloved country, the USA. But, all three of the readings speak of failure! I guess we could say that the story of Jesus is always headed toward the failure of the crucifixion, but it ends with the glory of the Resurrection. I thought, maybe these stories today would be helpful for us to see some of the ways God works in our lives. Sometimes we recognize them, sometimes we don’t.
The first reading doesn’t give us much to work with; it tells us that the prophet Ezekiel was warned by the Spirit Herself that he was facing a group of people who were rebellious, so he shouldn’t be surprised. “They’d know a prophet has been among them,” and they missed the boat. Like, “Not your fault. You did the best you were able to do.”
The second reading is from Paul to the Corinthians, explaining to them that he, Paul himself, had been stricken with some sort of “thorn in his flesh” (He never tells what it was,), and he understands that God has sent that to teach him a lesson: that “power is made perfect in weakness!” Paul is feeling his weakness, and that was something Paul apparently needed to learn: “My grace is sufficient for you.” Like, “trust me, you’ll have what you need.” So Paul can say “for the sake of Christ, when I am weak, then I am strong.” It goes with the job, if you’re doing the work of Christ.
And the third reading, Jesus himself! He comes to the synagogue to teach. And the people begin to say, “Hey, who does he think he is? We know this guy. How come he’s acting like he can teach us? Is he trying to play like a prophet or something? Jesus feels their lack of faith; he’s disappointed, he moves on.
Maybe we can ask: What have we learned from our failures, and from the ways our lives “happen” to us ? Most of us are old enough to have had our own experiences. What have they taught us?
I want to tell you a story of my own, that has stayed with me as a great gift. It’s not a failure, exactly, but it’s a lesson by way of negation. It goes back to what I guess was about mid-life for me. I was with the Quakers in Pennsylvania for three wonderful years, teaching at their adult education center, Pendle Hill, a live-in situation for adults who created a yearly community of learners. I loved it! It had everything: a group of adults who wanted to learn together, great companionship, a living context that was cooperative, participative … everything good. I was in my third year there, loving it. But I started having this feeling: “Elaine this is great but you can’t stay here.” I tried to ignore it; it kept coming. Finally, I went to the person in head (who happened to be Parker Palmer at the time) and said, “Parker I can’t stay.” He said … well, things like “No, no, you can’t go; we need you here,” and he even told me to write up a job description that would make me want to stay. “Great,” I thought. I walked back to my apartment and no sooner walked in the door than I heard this loud, inner voice saying, “Elaine, it’s not negotiable!” So I had to go back to Parker and say, “Sorry, Parker, it’s not negotiable.” It was really hard, I loved it there, but I had to go.
Well, just at that time I was leaving to go to Loretto for an Election Assembly. I was a delegate. It happened that at that time, Rose Annette and others here were thinking of how they could start a retreat center at Loretto. Mary Kay called together a little group to talk about how it could be done: There was no one who could or would do it. Could we think of someone? And my pal PJ says, “I bet Elaine could do it.” “Me? Maybe I could,” and I did that for the next 20 years.
I think that is one of the most instructive experiences of my life, to trust the inner leading in whatever form it comes. Whether it comes in the form of failure or success, friend or foe, our God is with us. Today’s readings present human situations in which there seems to be a plan that comes from “someplace else.” A plan, an action that requires something like obedience to something we don’t create, but which is sort of done to us or for us or with us. Ours to do. Like it or not. It turns out to be just what needed to be. And just what we needed to do.
So maybe these readings aren’t about failures at all. They’re about “doing what is given to us to do.” The ways we are led or pushed or invited, one way or another, to do what is ours to do. Sometimes we wait, sometimes we go through hard times, sometimes it falls in our laps. When we think of our country today, we know we’re in a dangerous, difficult place, we need to pay attention. Our Community faces important decisions. What is ours to do, how can I find my role, hidden as it may be? Let’s pray that we may hold steady faith: Our God is with us. Now and always. Our God is with us.