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Failure and Resilience

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)  |  Fr Richard Finn ponders the rejection that every preacher of the Gospel must be prepared to endure.

Our culture isn’t comfortable with failure. In this age of endless upgrades, and prizes for all, at least one American school abolished its honour roll as a “source of embarrassment for some underachievers.” Paradoxically, that may explain the frisson of a television show in which the 'weakest link' was voted off and undertook 'the walk of shame'. Yet, our Gospel today centres on the unambiguous failure of Jesus. Our Lord enters his home town and - for the last time -preaches in a synagogue on the Sabbath. He wins initial admiration only to be rejected. ‘They would not accept him’. Nul points! 

Rejection of Jesus in his home town, by those with whom he had grown up, the failure to work many miracles - this is hardly an advertisement for the nascent Christian faith. Yet, rather than gloss over failure, Mark rubs the point home. Look at what Jesus says: a prophet is not without honour except in his own country, or town, among his own kin, and in his own house. The sentence is constructed to home in, and end on, that final note of rejection of Jesus by some even of his closest family. Even they have no faith in him.

So, why tell us this? The episode looks back first to the Old Testament prophets. It underscores the prophetic authority of Jesus as He experiences the rejection which they experienced; but it also points forward to events in Jerusalem, when Jesus will preach in the temple, only to provoke the hostility of the establishment, triggering his arrest and execution. Nazareth is a foretaste of what Jesus will meet in His Passion. You notice that we are told Jesus is ‘amazed’ by the Nazarenes’ lack of faith. We are meant to appreciate, I think, the personal desolation which rejection brings Him. This, too, anticipates the Passion, when from the cross Jesus shouts words from Psalm 22: ‘My God, my God, why have you deserted me?’ Mark wants to stress Christ’s fidelity to the Father and to us despite all that He suffers so keenly at our hands. Mark stresses how much it hurt. 

Why? Perhaps because what looks so much like failure, and what costs so much in desolation, is also the glory of an unbroken love, the glory which becomes manifest in the resurrection. Christ has plumbed the depths of human abandonment and nothing lies beyond His redemption. Love triumphs over abandonment in the forgiveness of sin. 

That matters for us. We can’t expect to do better than Christ. It belongs to His and our prophetic office to proclaim a Gospel that may cause offence, may be rejected. The aggression of the New Atheism or of intolerant liberalism reminds us of the anger triggered when the Gospel challenges us. This pattern of preaching met by unbelief is in some sense definitive, part of what disciples must expect in every age. We have to learn a certain resilience. God will do what God wants with our service or witness - as He does what He wants with Ezekiel’s preaching in our first reading. That witness isn’t always measured by its perceptible results. What matters is that we find the strength from God to continue. 

Mark knew that Christians must reckon on possible rejection and desolation within their own family, just as Jesus came into conflict with His extended family. Mark has related embarrassing family ‘scenes’ before this episode, attempts by Jesus’ family to reclaim him, to stop to his ministry in the conviction that he is mad. But it’s worth thinking about why this lack of faith hits those who knew Jesus as a family member, the local carpenter, and so on. It is as though we are prepared for God to work wonders anywhere except on our own doorstep. Would it be too threatening to acknowledge God’s power at work so close to home? So placing Jesus as the carpenter stops them seeing his deeper identity as the Messiah and Son of God.  

Finally, at the heart of this Gospel is hope. Our own failings and failures are real enough, our broken relationships, faltering friendships, though the Church sometimes still talks as though it were made up of idealized and identikit families, priests, and religious. There’s hope because our more messy reality is not the end of the story. We can dare to be honest about failure, look it squarely in the face and live through it, even learn from it, because God in Christ has been there too. He has entered the depths of our human condition in order to rescue us, share with us His risen life in the new creation.

Ezekiel 2:2-5  |  2 Cor 12:7-10  |  Mark 6:1-6

Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of a mosaic in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC.

Richard Finn O.P.

Richard Finn Richard Finn OP is Director of the Las Casas Insitute of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford.


Eileen Storrs Ruth commented on 05-Jul-2018 07:29 PM
While this entire homily is important & impressively written ~ I love how fr. Richard Finn OP sums it all up in the final paragraph. "There's hope because our more messy reality is not the end of the story". Thank God for that!!

I appreciate fr. Richard Finn's words because I can relate to them.....AND because I am always uplifted by "hope".

Thank you!
Eileen Ruth

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