A Reflection for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B).
Ezekiel 2:2-5 – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 – Mark 6:1-6.
A century ago, the Church in Nigeria was in its infancy. The majority of the clergy serving the country were bishops and priests from Britain and Ireland, and many of those were from religious orders. We Nigerians look back and cherish everything those men did to instil the Faith in the people of the time and to nurture it. Their priestly ministry in Nigeria (and indeed in many parts of Africa) bore much fruit. I myself am one of those fruits! I am grateful for the zeal and courage displayed by those men in coming on mission, and for their patience in laying the foundations of the Church In Africa. The first priest of Nigerian heritage was ordained for the Society of African Missions (the SMA Fathers) at Epiphany in 1920. The Nigerian people had got so used to the idea of having priests from overseas that when local men started being ordained, some people questioned whether it was possible for indigenous men to be validly ordained. The general feelings, however, were of excitement regarding the new development, and of joy at just how many young men were putting themselves forward for seminary and were intent on devoting their lives to mission. No doubt the joyous ambiance boosted the zeal of the priests and missionaries already on mission in Nigeria to work tirelessly to fan the fire of faith. The local people’s acceptance of the missionaries, plus their expressed appreciation of the missionaries’ work, were essential for the mission’s success.
All this is in contrast to the experience of Jesus in today’s Gospel reading when He went back to his hometown of Nazareth. The majority of people didn’t take His teachings and His mission seriously because they couldn’t or wouldn’t change their perception of Him. After knowing Him as a local man for thirty years, they were not prepared to open their eyes and ears to Who He Really Is. It was their worldly perception of Him in His human nature that blocked the possibility of His working miracles for them in His divine nature. To them, He was a member of the local carpenter’s family, and they weren’t going to be swayed from thinking of Him solely in terms as an ordinary human being and an ordinary worker like themselves. You can visualise them, hands on hips, jeering ‘How can Mary’s boy know any more about God than we do?’ and ‘Who does Josh think he is?’ And yet, they must have heard reports of the miracles He was working elsewhere, and it must have been obvious to them from these reports that God was working in Him and through Him. It was because He was a familiar local man that they were too blinkered to see that God had come to them in Nazareth, and because they were blinkered, He was limited in how far He was able to help them. The same syndrome is in operation in parishes today, when needy people seek out charismatic priests, celebrity priests and TV priests, rather than accept that the local priest on their doorstep bears the authority of Jesus to help them and serve them. Similarly, when God was sending Ezekiel on a mission of proclaiming His word to the people, as we heard in the 1st reading, God acknowledged that His prophet was going to experience rejection by his own people.
Our life in this world should be primarily about searching for God, who is Himself our desire and happiness. Many people go about looking for God in far-away places, in big gatherings and amongst unfamiliar people, rather than looking for God in and around themselves. Sometimes we forget that God is closer to us than we are to ourselves, don’t we? He is closer to us than we can ever imagine. God, who moves in mysterious ways, is present among us in our nearest and dearest, and in our neighbour. God is present, and reveals His presence, in the bits and pieces of our life experience. Human life experience is tainted, however, by the sin of Pride. How so? Well, when we get to know people and get close to them, we also get to know their shortcomings, faults and imperfections. How tempting it is for us to compare and contrast our personal possession and exercise of the 12 fruits of charity and the 7 fruits of the Spirit over against other people’s little quirks and massive failings. If we’re not careful, Pride takes such a hold of us that we no longer perceive and appreciate the gift of the grace of God in others. In the 2nd reading, St Paul wrote of a thorn in the flesh. Pride is a thorn we all have in the flesh to some degree, and we should do our utmost to pray, work and strive against it.
Today, the word of God is asking us to appreciate the blessing that we ought to be to each other, to appreciate those who are serving our parish community and wider society in various ways, to appreciate the genuine efforts people around us are making, and to be better at recognizing the good in people rather than being critical of their faults. Making a habit of thanking God for the working of His grace in others in these ways can help us to grow as a community of faith, and can encourage people to put even more effort into the services they render to the parish community. Showing your appreciation to someone helps to forge a positive human relationship. May I encourage you today to say a word of praise and to show some appreciation for everyone who crosses your path, including members of your family and friends, the person who cooks the dinner, the priests serving in this area and beyond, the neighbour who chats with you over the garden fence, the friends who give you time, support and attention during difficult times in your life… and so on.
Above all, be grateful to God for the gift of Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist. Don’t take for granted the presence of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of God among us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass due to our familiarity with bread and wine as ordinary food and drink. Amen. God bless you.