There is a phenomenon known in our culture as the prosperity gospel. The message can be found often on television that God desires our financial and physical well-being, and this is often given with a call for a financial donation to be blessed by God. I recently read an interesting article about a woman who subscribed to the prosperity gospel. It worked well for her until she was diagnosed with cancer. She then needed a God that could enter into the vulnerability and weakness of the human condition so that she could experience God’s healing love. The readings today offer a very different message than the prosperity gospel.
In today’s reading from Ezekiel, the prophet finds himself called to give an unpopular message; one that he really does not want to give. The prophet is to challenge the people that have worshipped false gods, perhaps in our contemporary time we would call them money, power, and success. The prophet challenges them to turn back to the Lord. This is because when we make these an end in themselves they cause much destruction and also leave us with an empty void. Perhaps covid has reminded us of the vulnerability of the human condition, and God wants to meet us there.
In the reading today from Corinthians, Paul is having problems with people he calls super apostles. They are similar to the prosperity gospel preachers, and their message seems to be also a promise of success. Paul counters this with a message to the church on weakness. The truth is we are all weak and we are all sinners, but this is not an obstacle to God’s grace. But that very awareness is what allows the love of Christ to work through us. I believe we have a temptation to want to make the Christian life about perfection or wearing a halo, but Jesus wants to work through the messiness of our humanity. When Paul talks about the thorn in the flesh, it may be similar to what in modern psychology terms is shadow side awareness, and self-acceptance of our shadow side allows us to see God’s grace at work in our humanity. The Priest Henry Nouwen in his book, The Wounded Healer, invites us to accept our woundedness, not with bitterness or self-condemnation but with self-acceptance, offering that it is not our success but rather our woundedness that offers grace and healing to others. This is like Jesus; what allows us to enter into the whole vulnerability of being human allows us to be understood and to understand.
Today’s gospel tells us that the more we understand Jesus as fully human, the more we can understand him as the Son of God. The people that knew Jesus the best misunderstood him in Mark’s Gospel. We see, in the gospel, rejection from those who lived in his neighborhood and misunderstanding from even his own family members. The gospel reminds us that we often put labels on people or put people in boxes. I think it is good to remind ourselves that we are all a mystery that is created by the ultimate mystery. This is a gift; it frees us to not have to live up to the limitations or the expectations others place on us. Jesus wants us to be ourselves, to be fully human. St Augustine once said that to truly know ourselves is to know God. If God is the ultimate mystery, then there is always more to know, always more to unfold in us. The gospel today, I think, can challenge St Agnes to honor that mystery of God’s love, or Jesus unfolding in each of us, even in our quirks and fallibilities. We are all wounded healers. We are told in this gospel Jesus could not do many miracles. Perhaps that was because the hometown put limitations on how God’s love worked through his humanity. Let’s have the expectation that God wants to work through the ordinary to do the extraordinary in our lives.