14th Sunday of the Year Exodus 2:2–5; 2 Corinthians 12:7–10; Mark 6:1–6
Pepe LePew People will reject us; but if we continue to love, our love will eventually bear fruit.
In 1960 a religious persecution broke out in the territory of Sudan in Africa.
A Christian black student named Paride Taban fled the danger and went to Uganda. While in Uganda, he studied for the priesthood and was ordained.
When things settled down in Sudan, young Father Taban returned to his homeland. He was assigned to a parish in Palotaka. But his African congregation found it hard to believe that he was really a priest. Father Taban says:
“The people looked hard at me and asked, ‘Do you mean to say, black man, that you are a priest? We can’t believe it’ ”
These people had never had a black priest before. They had always had white priests who gave them clothing and medicine. Young Father Taban was from the Madi tribe and had nothing to give them. He was poor like them.
To make matters worse, Father Taban had to introduce them to the changes of the Second Vatican Council. These changes bothered the people greatly. They said to one another:
“This young black man turns our altar around and celebrates Mass in our own language. He cannot be a real priest.”
Only after a great deal of difficulty did the people of Palotaka finally accept Father Taban.
The story of Father Taban is a modern example of the kind of rejection Jesus encountered when he returned to his home in Nazareth.
The people said to one another, “Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary?”
They thought to themselves, “Isn’t he an ordinary workman, like ourselves? How can he know any more about God than we? Who does he think he is?”
The people of Nazareth were not the only ones who wondered how a carpenter could know about God.
In early Christian times, a formidable opponent of Christianity was a man named Celsus. He used to ridicule Christians, saying, “Your founder was only an ignorant carpenter in a country village.”
Some modern Christians still find it hard to accept the fact that the man we call Lord and god was schooled in a carpenter shop, not in a university lecture hall.
Jesus and Father Taban are just two examples of people who were rejected by other people before being accepted.
Consider just a few modern examples.
Bishop Fulton Sheen, the great preacher, was told by his college debate coach, “You’re absolutely the worst speaker I ever heard.”
Ernest Hemingway, the great novelist, was told by his teachers, “Forget about writing; you don’t have enough talent for it.”
Richard Hooker, the author of MASH, had his book rejected by six publishers before it was finally accepted and became a runaway best-seller.
How does all this apply to our lives?
Jesus answered that question himself when he said, “No pupil is greater than his teacher; no slave is grater than his master.” Matthew 10:24
In other words, if people rejected Jesus in his lifetime, we shouldn’t be surprised if people reject us, his followers, in our lifetime.
For example, we shouldn’t be surprised if people reject us because we oppose destroying innocent life through abortion.
We shouldn’t be surprised if people reject us because we speak out in defense of human rights in Africa and Central America.
We shouldn’t even be surprised if, sometimes, other Christians reject us because of our nationality or economic status.
And finally, we shouldn’t even be surprised if, sometimes, our own families reject us. Jesus said this would happen. (See Luke 12:53.)
For example, a parent refuses to forgive a child from the heart. Or a child refuses to forgive a father or mother from the heart.
When rejection like this occurs, it’s easy for the rejected one to lose heart. It’s easy to give up. It’s easy to stop loving. It’s easy to grow angry. It’s easy to become bitter and resentful.
But we must resist this temptation.
Years ago, when movie theaters still showed cartoons, a popular series was called Looney Tunes.
A favorite character in the series was a romantic skunk called Pepe LePew. Pepe was always falling in love with someone. But because of his unpleasant odor, Pepe’s love was always rejected. But that didn’t stop Pepe. He went right on loving—no matter how many times he was rejected. Pepe never gave up on people or love.
That’s why so many moviegoers grew to love Pepe.
Pepe was a lot like Jesus. Jesus never gave up on people either. He went right on loving them—no matter how many times he was rejected.
And perhaps that’s the biggest practical lesson we can take away from today’s readings.
We can imitate Jesus. We can imitate Father Taban. We can imitate Pepe LePew, the cartoon character. We can go on loving people no matter how many times we are rejected.
In brief, then, today’s readings can teach us two things.
First, people will inevitably reject us, at times, just as they rejected Jesus.
Second, we should not let this keep us from continuing to love, just as Jesus never let it keep him from continuing to love.
Let us close by listening to these encouraging words from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says:
“Happy are you who weep now; you will laugh!
“Happy are you when people hate you, reject you,insult you, and say that you are evil, all because of the Son of Man!
“Be glad when that happens and dance for joy, because a great reward is kept for you in heaven.” Luke 6:21–23
Series II 14th Sunday of the Year Ezekiel 2:2–5; 2 Corinthians 12:7–10; Mark 6:1–6
Strength in Weakness We are strongest when we are weakest, for then we open ourselves to the infinite power of God.
Some years ago W. Timothy Gallwey wrote a book called The Inner Game of Tennis.
In it Gallwey tells how one cold winter night he was driving from Maine to New Hampshire. It was about midnight, and he was on a deserted country road.
Suddenly, his Volkswagen skidded on an icy curve, slammed into a snowbank, and stalled. Try as he may, he could not get the motor running again.
The temperature was about 20 degrees below zero, and his only protection against the cold was the sports jacket that he was wearing. It had been 20 minutes since he passed through a town. In that time he had not seen another car. Nor had he seen a farmhouse or even a telephone pole. He had no map and no idea where the next town might be.
He got out of his car and started running down the road. But the cold drained his energy so quickly that he slowed down to a walk.
When he had walked about two minutes, his ears became so cold that he thought they would chip off. Again, he started running. But, again, the cold drained his energy so quickly that he slowed to a walk.
Suddenly, the gravity of the situation struck him. He could picture himself lying by the roadside covered with snow, frozen to death. The very thought paralyzed him with fear.
After a few minutes, Gallwey found himself saying out loud, “Okay, if now is the time, so be it. I’m ready.’’ With that, he stopped worrying about death and started jogging down the road.
After a few minutes of rhythmic jogging, he found himself marveling at the beauty of the star-filled sky and the snow-covered countryside.
To his amazement, he continued to jog for a full 40 minutes without stopping. He stopped then only because he saw a light burning in a distant farmhouse. Miraculously, he had survived.
After his experience, Gallwey reflected on it. He asked himself where he had found all the energy that allowed him to jog so far without stopping.
Then it occurred to him. Resigning himself to his fate had put him in touch with a strange power that he had never experienced before.
By letting go of his conscious grip on life, he had let “the natural concern of a deeper self take over.’’ By surrendering to whatever God had in store for him, he paradoxically opened himself to a strange power that he never knew existed.
Commenting on his experience of surrendering and letting go, he wrote in his book:
“This is the true meaning of detachment. It means letting go . . . and letting the natural concern of a deeper self take over. It is caring and not caring; it is effortless effort. It happens when one lets go of attachment to the results of one’s action and allows the increased energy to come to bear on the action itself. . . . This is called action without attachment to the fruits of the action, and ironically when this state is achieved the results are the best possible.’’
Gallwey’s experience helps us understand those mysterious words of Paul in today’s second reading. Recall them.
God says to Paul, “My power is greatest when you are weak.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
Paul responds, “I am content with weaknesses. . . for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9, 10
Strange words indeed! But what does Paul mean when he says, “When I am weak, then I am strong”?
He means that when he is weak, it is then that he turns to God for help. It is then that he opens himself to God and allows the power of God to strengthen him.
To put it another way, Paul is saying that had he never experienced weakness, he would never have reached out for help. And he would never have discovered the greatest source of power that a person can discover: God.
One group of people who have no trouble buying into Paul’s words is Alcoholics Anonymous.
Members of AA will tell you frankly that the key to turning their lives around was admitting that they were powerless over alcohol.
For then and only then did they honestly acknowledge their need for God.
Then and only then did they take the biggest step of their lives and open themselves to God’s help.
Then and only then did they experience the greatest power that a human being can ever experience.
Then and only then did they truly realize in an existential way why Christ came into the world. He came because we are incomplete and need his strength and power to complete us.
The application of this to our lives is clear.
When trials come our way, and they will, when crises come upon us, and they will, when hardships threaten to destroy us, and they will, we should not lose heart. Rather, we should take heart.
For it is at these times that we discover our need for God. And we open ourselves to God in a way that we never did before. And it is then that God enters our lives and lets us experience God’s power in a way that we never experienced it before.
This is the strange meaning of Paul’s words. This is the good news of today’s readings. This is the mystery that we celebrate together in this liturgy.
Let’s close with a poem that sums up what we have been trying to say:
I asked for health, that I might do greater things; I was given infirmity, that I might do better things. . . . I asked for riches, that I might be happy; I was given poverty, that I might be wise. . . . I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men; I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God. . . . I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life; I was given life, that I might enjoy all things. . . . I got nothing I asked for, but everything I hoped for. Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered. I am among all men most richly blessed. Unknown Confederate soldier
Series III 14th Sunday of the Year Ezekiel 2:2–5, 2 Corinthians 12:7–10, Mark 6:1–6
Prejudice Rejecting people because they don’t fit our preconceived patterns of race, creed, or social standing.
Where did he get all this?” they asked. “Isn’t he the carpenter, son of Mary . . . ?” And so they rejected him. Mark 6:2–3
Dr. Charles Drew was the eldest of five children. He graduated from McGill in Canada with a degree of Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery.
At Columbia College in New York, he developed a technique for the long-term preservation of blood plasma, for use in blood transfusions.
During World War II, he became director of the nation’s blood banks, providing blood for the army and navy.
In this capacity, he laid the groundwork for the Red Cross’s procedures for collecting and banking blood.
Ironically, he was black and therefore not permitted to contribute his own blood to the Red Cross Blood Bank.
In 1944, he became chief of staff and medical director at Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. He received scores of awards and was widely regarded in the medical field as one of the world’s leading physicians.
In 1950, he was in a serious auto accident and lost a great deal of blood. A segregated hospital in Burlington, North Carolina, refused to admit him for a transfusion. He died during the long ride to a hospital that would accept blacks. And so it happened that a brilliant young doctor died at the age of 45—at the height of his career—because a segregated hospital denied him the benefit of his own discovery.
That incredibly tragic story brings us to today’s Gospel.
There we read how people could not understand where Jesus, son of a poor carpenter, got his knowledge and miraculous power.
So, too, people could not understand where Dr. Drew, son of black ancestors, got his knowledge and brilliant skill.
Jesus was rejected by people he loved in spite of the wonderful things he did.
Likewise, Dr. Drew was widely rejected in spite of his remarkable achievements.
Finally, Jesus, who healed and saved so many people, had his life taken from him by the very people he healed and saved.
Likewise, Dr. Drew, who healed and saved so many people, had his life taken from him by people he healed and saved.
What God said to the prophet Ezekiel in today’s first reading could be said of both Jesus and Dr. Drew:
I am sending you to a people who have turned against me. Whether they listen to you or not, they will know that a prophet has been among them. Ezekiel 2:3–5 (adapted)
That brings us to each one of us in this church. How do the stories of Jesus in today’s Gospel and of Dr. Charles Drew apply to our lives?
Jesus answered this very question himself when he warned his disciples about the coming persecutions that many of them would endure. He said:
“Listen! I am sending you out just like sheep to a pack of wolves. . . . [Many] will hate you because of me. But whoever holds out to the end will be saved. . . .
“No pupil is greater than his teacher; no slave is greater than his master. So a pupil should be satisfied to become like his teacher, and a slave like his master.” Matthew 10:16, 22, 24
In other words, Jesus is saying that if people rejected him in his lifetime, we should not be surprised if people also reject us, his followers, in our lifetime.
For example, we should not be surprised if people reject us because we oppose destroying innocent life through abortion. We should not be surprised if people reject us because we speak out in defense of exploited minorities.
We should not be surprised if people reject us because we stand up for what we believe to be right.
We should not even be surprised if other Christians reject us because of our nationality or our economic or social status.
Nor should we be surprised if our own families reject us. Jesus said this would happen, saying:
“People will hand over their own brothers to be put to death, and fathers will do the same to their children; children will turn against their parents.” Matthew 10:21
For example, a parent may refuse to forgive a child from the heart. Or a child may refuse to forgive a father or a mother from the heart.
When rejection like this occurs, we are tempted to give up. We are tempted to stop loving. We are tempted to become resentful and spiteful.
Should this ever happen, we should not give in to our feelings. Rather, we must imitate Jesus, who said we should forgive our enemies and “pray for those who mistreat us.” Luke 6:28
Consider a concrete example. In 1861, Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy of America, was looking for someone to fill a key post in his administration. So he asked General Robert E. Lee about a certain man named Whiting. Lee recommended the man highly.
One of Lee’s officers called Lee aside and asked him if he was aware of the derogatory remarks Whiting had made about him. Lee replied, “I understand that the President wanted to know my opinion of Whiting, not Whiting’s opinion of me.”
General Lee rejected the temptation to be governed by hurt feelings rather than by truth and love.
In brief, then, today’s readings teach us two things.
First, people will reject us, at times, just as they rejected Jesus. Second, we must not let this rejection keep us from loving, even as Jesus never let rejection keep him from loving.
Let us close by listening to these word of Jesus, spoken during his Sermon on the Mount:
“Happy are you when people hate you, reject you, insult you, and say that you are evil, all because of the Son of Man! Be glad when that happens and dance for joy, because a great reward is kept for you in heaven.” Luke 6:22–23