Nobody likes a smart aleck. Particularly if the person concerned is one of us, one who seems to act as if she or he is in some way better than the rest. Even if it is true, we insist that that person should not flaunt it. Today’s readings all sketch the profile of a messenger of God, someone called from the group to speak God’s word to that group. They also describe the rejection that these messengers had to endure. Those chosen by God are compelled by the force of their call; those to whom they are sent respond: Who does he think he is?
A prophet is not one who looks into the future, but one who has insight into the present. The biblical prophets were always members of the community who were called by God to speak to that community. It was not difficult to accept them when their message was affirming. But when they criticized the community and challenged it to repentance and reform, the messenger was often rejected along with the message. This was the case with both Ezekiel and Jesus. The prophetic mantle was, and continues to be, a heavy one to bear.
The reading from Corinthians does not address the opposition that Paul experienced from others. In fact, it presumes that he has been quite successful in his ministry. Rather, this reading highlights the need to turn to God in the face of any kind of trial. Paul suffered from “a thorn in the flesh”; Ezekiel was sent to a people who were “hard of face and obstinate of heart”; it was the people of Jesus’ own home town who “took offense at him.” In each case God could certainly say: “My grace is sufficient for you.”
These readings can hit home to us in two very different ways. In some circumstances, we might be the ones who are closed to the insights of others, insights that could open our lives to new and exciting possibilities. Why are we jealous of the gifts God may have given to others and not to us? Rejecting them is really our loss!
In other circumstances, we might be the ones who feel unappreciated, overlooked or actually rejected because of some ability we genuinely possess or some service we wish to offer. At such times, we might act as did Paul, begging God to remedy the situation. But such prayers are seldom answered as we would like, and so we too must rely on the divine promise: “My grace is sufficient for you.” If we accept that grace, we will discover the truth of that promise—God’s grace is indeed sufficient.