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The sweet and the sour in this week's Gospel

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It is fun on occasion to take note of people’s different taste preferences. If you like sweet and sour dishes, there are two courses for you to enjoy in the banquet provided in this Sunday’s readings.

It is mildly sweet to know that Jesus experienced tension and division in his native place, presumably with neighbors, friends and extended relatives. The Evangelist, Mark, is quick to point out the sour reality that a significant crowd from Jesus’ hometown “took offense at him.” More often than we would like, familiarity breeds contempt. Folks from Nazareth who knew that Jesus was a carpenter by trade and were familiar with his mother and cousins could not accept that he was exhibiting tremendous wisdom and performing mighty deeds. Were they simply doubters? Were they offended by his high moral standards that challenged their way of life? Or, were they jealous and resentful that this humble man was attracting large crowds?

It is mildly sweet or encouraging to know that Jesus faced persecution close to home. So, we should not be surprised when we take our faith in Jesus seriously and strive to live the Gospel way of life with passion and authenticity and encounter family members and neighbors who strongly disagree and turn sour toward us. I have experienced this reality with a few of my own extended family members, some of whom are quick to ask me to celebrate weddings, baptisms and funerals, and other family members who do not invite me to their celebrations.

Even in these difficult situations with family and neighbors, we are invited by Christ to remain most charitable. By remaining true to our faith and its values and being humble enough to be warm, caring and positive around those who find it hard to accept us, we show them what a true Christian is and we leave the door open to them to ask us the reason for our hope and our charity.

The second sweet and sour dish is served up by St. Paul today in his Second Letter to the Corinthians. Paul teaches that a certain thorn in the flesh was given to him. Countless Christians have speculated about what Paul was specifically referring to by the thorn, but Paul does not state what the thorn is.

The pain must have been particularly sharp since Paul refers to it as “an angel of Satan” and begs God three times to take it away. The Lord’s response is sweet and sour, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Once again, Jesus is flipping our normal perspective on its back. He is inviting us to look differently at our world.

In truth, when we become weak, we have the potential to become enormously strong. When we are made powerless by an injury, an illness, an addiction or some other circumstance outside our control, then we have the privileged opportunity of turning to God and inviting him into the depth of our heart and soul. When God finds a home in the very center of our heart, when we fully embrace our tremendous dependence upon him and lean on his wisdom and power, then we find a strength beyond expectation. And the truth is, God desperately desires to share his powerful love with every one of us. It demands that we set aside our ugly pride and fierce desire to remain independent and open up our lives to his will, grace and strength.

Living the celibate life of a priest and as a consecrated man in Youth Apostles has been a constant reminder to me of the need to rely completely upon God and his love. Setting aside the blessing of a wife and family for the sake of the kingdom of heaven has forced me to cling desperately to God, to take refuge in him and to know a wonderful strength that comes from drawing close to him, being his disciple and being a member of his team.

Paul finishes this passage with a knockout punch, “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Fr. Peterson is director of mission and development for the Youth Apostles.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021