Sunday, July 8, is the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
July 11 is St. Benedict’s feast day. St. Benedict and St. Thérèse: The Little Rule & the Little Way by Father Dwight Longenecker, a Register contributor, is a marvelous introduction to both the Rule of St. Benedict and the spirituality of the Little Flower. Let these two great saints (and their great interpreter) teach you their simple and straightforward way to God.
Ezekiel 2:2-5, Psalm 123:1-4, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Mark 6:1-6
Protestant evangelist Ernest Corty tells the story of a lighthouse to explain evangelization.
Years ago, on a rocky coastline, a shore town’s inhabitants began noticing that more and more trade ships were passing by — and many were bottoming out on the rocks. So the townspeople decided to build a lighthouse to warn passing ships about the danger.
The lighthouse worked to warn many ships away. But some ships continued to come too close. They would hit the rocks, and their sailors would have to be rescued from the treacherous waters, often in icy conditions. The people enthusiastically began the work of saving sailors — and in order to make the work easier, many built their homes near the beautiful lighthouse.
As time wore on and the people’s houses became better appointed, they began to resent the sailors they had to save: They were messy, they used bad language — and hadn’t each of them failed to heed the lighthouse warning in the first place?
They stopped their rescue missions, figuring that keeping the lighthouse light burning was enough. In Corty’s story, new “rescuers” had to rise up and make a special commitment to save the sailors. They built a better-positioned lighthouse and continued the rescues as needed.
Those new “rescuers” are like the figures we meet in the readings today. All three of them face a similar problem: They are dealing with fellow believers who are tired of their warnings and dealing with a world that seems unwilling to heed heralds of caution.
In the first reading, the prophet Ezekiel is chosen by the Lord for a thankless task: He has to reproach the Israelites for their apostasy when the Israelites have no desire to heed the warning.
“Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you,” says the Lord. “But you shall say to them: ‘Thus says the Lord God!’ And whether they heed or resist — for they are a rebellious house — they shall know that a prophet has been among them.”
The message: Warn the “sailors.” It would be great if they did what they were told, were thankful for the warning, and even helped out a little. But whether they are nice or mean, keep warning them.
St. Paul in the second reading also shows how sharing God’s warning can be a thankless task.
God knows how complacent people can get, just like the shore-dwellers by the lighthouse. “That I, Paul, might not become too elated,” says the reading from Second Corinthians “a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.”
It isn’t clear what this thorn is. It is either a sickness or disability or it is an experience of opposition. At any rate, it is a suffering that Paul has to endure even while he does the will of God.
He suffers “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints for the sake of Christ.” But even when the townspeople shun and block him, he doesn’t stop his preaching or rescuing souls, just like the lighthouse crew.
Finally, we see Jesus himself. In his own town, he teaches in the synagogue and wants to serve the people with miracles, but they reject him.
“Where did this man get all this?” they ask. They know his family (there was no Hebrew word for “cousins,” and so here, as elsewhere in the Bible, “brothers” and “sisters” are used) and they know him — and they don’t like being talked to this way by one of their own. They refuse to heed his warning. Even though they acknowledge that he has accomplished “mighty deeds,” they still “take offense at him.”
The situation is so bad that the Gospel says Jesus “was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.”
This, like the lighthouse story, is a kind of parable for what the Church can become if believers grow tired of sharing the faith.
It may be a difficult and often thankless task promoting the Gospel. But we need to keep it up, come what may — with our eyes fixed on God, like today’s Psalm says.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.