Sunday, July 5, 2015

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Persecution & Atheism

Today's readings deal with rejection of the faith and its consequences.

In the first reading, we read of the priest Ezekiel. God speaks to him and the Spirit entered him. The voice that spoke to him tells him that he is being sent to the rebels among the Israelites (Exodus 32:9, Deuteronomy 31:27). These rebels were the ones who turned against God. They are like atheists today who reject God and Christian principles in favor of an ideology of confusion which finds its origin in relativism (Romans 1:25).
Ezekiel serves to these people as a reminder that God still loves these rebels and that He has tried to bring them back, but they still reject Him (Psalm 95). This ties in with today's Gospel. God is not the problem, we are.  We are the ones who sin and reject God (Ezekiel 6:9, Deuteronomy 32:18). This reading is appropriate to today's times with the Supreme Court's decision legalizing so-called same-sex marriage in all 50 states. This nation who "trusts in God" and who claims it is "under God" has pushed God aside. We must ask God for mercy and have our eyes fixed on Him as we read in the Psalm for today.

Today's responsorial Psalm reminds us to lift our eyes to the one who is on the throne in heaven.  We must ask the one enthroned for mercy (Psalm 47:8, 1 Kings 22:19). He cares for us; so much that He throughout time has sent us priests, prophets and His own Son to bring us back (2 Chronicles 36:15). Have pity on us, have pity.  These words have a strong significance today.  Our world has gone astray and only the one who is on the throne who patiently awaits our conversion

The second reading is also a strong reminder to us today regarding the suffering we have to put up with.  St. Paul states that in order for him to 'not become too elated,' he has to deal with 'a thorn in the flesh' who is a demon or an angel of Satan (Job 2:4-5, Ephesians 4:26-27, 1 Thessalonians 3:5, 1 Timothy 3:7). We are all taught that suffering is bad, and rightfully so.  Suffering is a bad thing.  It hurts us and may even kill us. However, to a Catholic, suffering is transformed by God into a good that makes us stronger (Romans 5:3-5). This does not mean we become masochists, but instead our suffering has no power over us because we bear it along with Christ's suffering (Romans 8:17, 1 Peter 4:13). When we get sick, our bodies suffer in order to get better. We get fevers, coughs, runny noses, aches and pains and so forth. This is how the body recovers.  Suffering humbles us and reminds us that we are just mortals. Regardless of how many push-ups we can do, the technology we design, we still are weak. Suffering reminds us of this.  If we think we are supermen, we will become arrogant.

After the Supreme Court's decision, we can expect our suffering to increase. We are being mocked, harassed and treated as the people "on the wrong side of history." That is okay.  Let them do that. We bear our suffering and their mockery knowing Christ already bore it for us and was victorious. We who are with Him will be victorious as well (2 Timothy 2:12).  St. Paul says that he begged the Lord about this suffering he endured, but the Lord told Him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." What does this mean? This means that we see truly how powerful God is when He can do the impossible even in weakness. If a muscular man who has trained for track and field prays to God to win and wins, people will say he won because of his training. However, if this man is weak, skinny, sickly looking and prays to God and does win the race, then we see that God's power is made perfect in this situation because this man was not supposed to win but did anyway because God's power worked in this man's weakness. Never feel like you cannot do much for the kingdom of God. Whether young or old, sick or healthy, able-bodied or disabled; you can do all things in Him who strengthens you (Philippians 4:13). Like St. Paul, you will be content with this weakness, the insults, hardships, persecutions and so forth. We must face the worse if we are to follow Christ (Matthew 16:24).  Jesus too endured rejection as we read in the Gospel.

In the Gospel, we read of Jesus coming to His native place with His disciples. It was the sabbath and he taught at the synagogue.  The people there were amazed at His knowledge and wisdom.  Christ spoke to the heart and rationally as if He had a doctorate in theology.  The people wondered who He was and others asked if He was not the carpenter who is also the son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas and Simon. Brother in this sense is not a brother in the sense of blood or genetics. It means close friend or in today's language, a 'bestie.'  The same with the reference to His "sisters."   Those in the synagogue felt offended because Jesus was a mere carpenter, yet He spoke with authority. The Jewish leaders of the time were mostly arrogant and sought positions of power (Matthew 23:13). They followed the law when it suited them. Jesus being the "Word of God" naturally knew the Word or the Hebrew Scriptures (Luke 2:41-52).  After noticing the disdain these Jewish leaders had for Him, Jesus tells them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” This is connected to the first reading where the rebels among the Israelites rejected the men God sent them.

Now we read something atheists often bring up claiming God is not all-powerful. It says, "so He was not able to perform any might deeds there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying His hands on them.  He was amazed at their lack of faith." Atheists often cite this in order to make a case that the Bible has contradictions and that God is in fact not all-powerful.  They do not see that Christ is not showing weakness or an inability to work miracles.  He respects the free will of people and will not force His power on them (Sirach 15:11-20).  This is why faith is necessary. People have to believe and trust in order to "give permission" to God, so to speak.  This does not mean God is not all-powerful.  Think about it: Would you give a sandwich to someone who never asked for it?  If you do so, you would be imposing on him or her.  God is not like that.  He waits for us to come back and ask in order to get, and seek Him in order to find ourselves (Matthew 7:7).  Unfortunately, our world today is rejecting Him.  We must continue to preach the Gospel via our lives and words in order to soften the hearts of people today.  If we do this, we will see faith increase and God's mighty works come into fruition.  Again, do not be concerned if you see yourself as weak.  It is in weakness that God's power is made perfect.  Do not worry at facing mockery, harassment and persecution from others in today's world (Matthew 24:9. 2 Timothy 3:12).  Where sin reigns, God's grace will come down ever more calling all to change (Romans 5:20).  May Jesus be praised!


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