July 4, 2021 –
The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Ezekiel 2:2-5  +  2 Corinthians 12:7-10  +  Mark 6:1-6

Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you.

Jesus’ rejection in today’s Gospel Reading was not a one-time occurrence.  Saint John the Evangelist states this same unfortunate truth, but in a different way.  About Jesus, St. John writes:  “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world knew Him not.  He came to His own home, and His own people received Him not” [ John 1:10-11].

Throughout the three years of Jesus’ public ministry, He was frequently rejected as a prophet.  Each of those rejections foreshadows the ultimate rejection of Jesus on Mount Calvary:  the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, the one who came to save us from our sins.

After Jesus is rejected “in His native place and among His own kin”, the evangelist concludes with these observations:  “He 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.”

There are some people who use these last two sentences to deny that Jesus is God.  They argue that if Jesus were truly God, He would have been able to perform miracles in today’s Gospel passage.  Or to put it another way:  if the crowd’s lack of faith is greater than Jesus’ power to work miracles, then Jesus cannot possibly be the omnipotent God of the Bible.

We need to reflect upon this tension between the crowd’s lack of faith and Jesus’ lack of miracles.  We need to reflect upon this tension not just for the sake of understanding this particular Scripture passage, but also for the sake of our own spiritual lives.  Many Christians struggle because in the course of their earthly lives, they don’t see God responding to their most dire needs.  Some of these Christians give up their search for an answer.  Either they give up on God and leave the Church, or they give up on themselves, leading to despair or even death.

We know by instinct that the crowd’s lack of faith is not greater than Jesus’ power to work miracles.  But God chooses not to work miracles where there is a lack of faith.  We might say that God the Father made a “gentleman’s agreement” with Himself when He decided to send His Son to earth to become human.  He made a rule that He committed Himself always to abide by:  that is, never to over-ride human free will.

In the face of what can seem like God’s silence or lack of care about the many shades of darkness within life on earth, there are three plain facts that each of us needs to accept.

First, each of us needs to trust more deeply in God’s Providential will.  To say that God’s divine will is providential means that while God never directly causes evil, He does permit it.  He allows the world we live in to be as dark as it is because that darkness is the price to be paid for human free will.  It might be simpler if God were to remove that freedom and make all things right in the world.  But without that freedom, no one would have the chance to become like God and enter Heaven.

Second, each of us needs to grow in faith in God’s love for oneself personally.  Each of us needs to have the faith that the crowds in today’s Gospel passage lacked.  Each of us needs to believe that God sends His love to us in humble forms, especially in humble opportunities to love Him.  Nevertheless, as much as He chooses to love you, He also chooses not to force you to love Him.

Third, God demands that your faith be purified.  This is not the same as growing in faith.  Growing in faith is what you do by choosing to believe.  But this third plain fact is what God does.  God wants actively to purify your faith:  to sift it so as to remove the chaff.  Part of this sifting is helping us separate our wants from our needs.  Another part removes consolations in prayer so that our faith grows deeper.  This sifting calls us to adore God more than we petition Him, and to love Him for Who He truly is, instead of who we want Him to be.