This week we remember the thirteen colonies and their rebellion against, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, “a long train of abuses” by a monarch across the sea. We read about rebels in the readings for this Sunday too. But these are rebels of a different kind. They have no legitimate complaints. They are full of pride and ingratitude for all the good things God gives them.
In the first reading God sends the prophet Ezekiel to the people of Israel. As God’s chosen people the Israelites should be committed to the covenant, modeling to the rest of the world what it means to live by the standards of heaven. But in this reading God calls them not “my people” but “rebels who have rebelled against me.”
Clearly something has gone very wrong. We find out what it is later on in the book. It turns out the people put more faith in the things of this world than in God. They turn their backs to God and their faces towards power and wealth. They think such things will make them great when in fact greatness lies in serving the God who created them.
But all is not lost! They may have turned away from God. But God has not turned away from them. God still cares about them. And so God sends them the prophet Ezekiel They can ignore his message if they want to. But Ezekiel speaks the truth. And when the truth has its day, the people will know for certain “that a prophet has been among them.”
There are rebels against God in the Gospel reading too. Surprisingly they are found in the Lord’s native place. It is a Sabbath and he begins teaching in the synagogue. Mark does not tell us what Jesus was teaching that day. But from Luke’s account of the same scene we know he was telling them about the fulfillment of a prophecy. Isaiah looked forward to a day when an anointed of the Lord would preach the good news to the people (Is 61). That day, Jesus informs them, has arrived (Lk 4:16-30)!
But instead of celebrating this wonderful news many in the synagogue have only negative things to say. They claim to know his family and his work as a carpenter when he lived among them. They rebel again the idea that a person so familiar to them could possibly be the one to fulfill the prophecies of someone as great as Isaiah.
They reject the Lord and so miss out on some wonderful gifts. Mark tells us Jesus could not work many mighty deeds there. He did cure the sick by laying hands on them. But the number of people healed was small. We just have to wonder what other mighty deeds they missed out on, just as the people of Ezekiel’s day missed out on so many gifts from God because they too would not recognize how close God actually was to them.
These rebels would have benefited from Paul's words in the second reading. Paul is wise enough to know that he should never allow himself to get in the way of God’s good work. He tells the faithful in Corinth he would never boast about the visions and revelations God granted him. Instead he is perfectly content with quite the opposite, something he refers to as “a thorn in the flesh.” He never tells us precisely that this thorn is but he does give us a list of things that could be counted as thorns: insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints. The bottom line—Paul is content to be weak for the sake of Christ and gospel. When he is weak and fully aware of his utter reliance on God that is when he is strongest as a person of faith. In other words. Paul does not allow Paul to get in the way of preaching about Jesus Christ. It’s a good lesson for the rebel in each one of us.