Today’s readings are concerned with rejection of God’s messengers, which was a common experience for Old Testament prophets. The Gospel shows that Jesus receives the same reaction from many of his own people.
Ezekiel’s ministry was during the last turbulent days of Judea before the victory of Nebuchadnezzar and the carrying off to Babylon of much of the Jewish population. Like other prophets of the same general period, his warnings were ignored. What we read today is considered his ‘Call’ as a prophet, and he is warned of how difficult his role will be, with a hint of how his words will be ignored by the ‘obstinate and rebellious’.
‘Son of man’ is how Ezekiel hears himself addressed by God when he receives words of prophecy. ‘Son of…’ expressions are a feature of Semitic languages. ‘Man’ (the Greek word stresses the generic rather than ‘male’ and this is equivalent to saying ‘human person’. Lawrence Boadt, CSP writes of Ezekiel: ‘The term occurs over 90 times to contrast the divine speaker with the mere mortal who is to transmit the message. It not only stresses that the message is God’s not Ezekiel’s, but that judgement and deliverance lie in God’s hands not ours.’ In the Old Testament, ‘son of man’ is picked up only in Daniel 7:13-14 where the emphasis is different: ‘one like a son of man’ receives everlasting ‘sovereignty, glory and kingship’. ‘Son of Man’ is a way Jesus speaks of himself frequently in the Synoptic gospels.
This in one of the shorter psalms, and we read the whole today. It echoes the trust Ezekiel had in God. The last verse with the contempt the psalmist feels forecasts the scorn shown to Jesus in the gospel.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
The background of this reading is that Paul was challenged by Corinthians who wanted visions as proof of God’s action, and he was led reluctantly to boast of the revelations he himself had received in order to convince them of his apostolic authority. We pick up where he moves on to indicate that the visions are not what is most important for him, and in fact he lives not in ecstasy but with many kinds of hardship. St Paul had the example of Jesus before him when he writes of his learning to accept insults. Paul recognizes that the vision of ‘being caught up in heaven’ (2 Corinthians 12:2-4) could have made him proud. The ‘thorn in the flesh’ is not further described, but hints at a physical problem, perhaps one that brought a lot of pain. It was widely believed at the time that such illnesses were caused by Satan.
Paul’s three prayers are answered not as he hoped with healing but with God giving him the grace to endure. Power ‘at its best’ is shown in weakness: it shows that the power of Paul’s preaching is not his own, but comes from God working in him. We are invited to understand this definition, which goes against what ordinary life considers power.
After hearing of the ‘crowds’ enthusiastic about Jesus’ teaching and many healings. we have the contrast of those in his home town. Mark does not name ‘his own place’ but we know it as Nazareth from other gospels; it was an insignificant village in his time.
As often in Mark there are no details of the teaching, but we can surmise that he was as before ‘speaking with authority’ (Mark 1:27-28). Mark has shown how astonished people have been elsewhere in Galilee, where with so many people impressed and wanting to see him that he could hardly move from place to place. Here it is all different. To the people Jesus had grown up around, he is ‘just a local boy’ and they won’t accept him as anyone having special wisdom and wonder-working power. They know his parentage and his family, and remember him working as a craftsman and that prejudices them. They may even feel envy – ‘why him and not us?’
Mark tells us in the first words of his Gospel that Jesus is the ‘Son of God’, but throughout he shows examples of how thoroughly Jesus is also human. In today’s reading, he is show to have family connections, a need to have a job. He fits completely in the world of his time.
‘Son of Mary’: it was customary to refer to one as the ‘son of’ his father, and naming Jesus by his mother may have been a contemptuous insult, but it could mean no more than at this time Joseph had died and Mary was still there and so she came to mind. ‘Brothers and sisters’: In the Catholic tradition, Mary had no other children, and various suggestions are offered as to whom were these siblings. The word for ‘brother/sister’ in Aramaic can be used for cousin, or some other close relative. (In Mark 6:17-18, for example, ‘brother’ is used for a step-brother in the Herod family.) Mark seems uninterested in any family details; the emphasis is on the villagers’ sense that they know all about Jesus from his growing up around them. Family connections are especially seen as important in traditional societies and often seen as showing identity. ‘Without honour in his own country’ was a saying known both in the Jewish and Greek worlds. Jesus recites it indicating that he is indeed speaking with the power of God, but is treated as had been Ezekiel and other persecuted Jewish prophets. It is not the messenger who is at fault, but those who are not ready to listen to God.
Last week, we heard of a faith that saved the woman with a haemorrhage, now lack of faith keeps most of the ill from being cured. There are a few exceptions, but that still does not impress the villagers.
Jesus was ‘amazed’ at their lack of faith, another sign of being human. We may assume that he was also hurt by the rejection by people he had grown up among. But like God the Father, he does not force himself on anyone. Freedom to accept or reject God’s truth and love is an essential part of our human nature. We will see over and over in Mark how people misuse their freedom, and how God works, as it were, around that so that ultimately God will triumph – but through suffering, as he did in Paul within human weakness.
We hear of no more of Nazareth. Jesus leaves them and turns his attention to others open to his teaching.