July 8, 2018

TRANSCENDING OUR WEAKNESSES

BIBLE READINGS
Mark 6:1-13
Ezekiel 2:1-5

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

REFLECTION

Every time people asked whether my son was able to walk or not, I told them that he could run and climb. Oh yes, he can climb. He climbs stairs, boxes, sofas, chair, you name it. Often, he climbs things that are dangerous to climb like bookshelves or high chairs As parents, we are understandable often worry about his safety. But, the thing is, he is testing the limit of his body. And as much as we want to keep him safe, we believe it’s still necessary to give him the space to explore. When Abia was still learning how to stand on his two feet, his nurse told us to let him fall. He needed to learn how to fall well. More importantly, he needed to learn how to protect himself when he fell.

Friends, life is not only about climbing; it is also about falling. Our life consists of two major themes: strengths and weaknesses. To acknowledge these two things in our life is the key to healthy and fulfilling life. We need to understand both to have a clear and realistic picture about ourselves.

If we see our strengths only, we will have an over-inflated image of ourselves. Failure will not become an option in our life. But failure will happen and when it does, we will blame other people or the environment or the situation. But we will never blame ourselves. We will become boastful and arrogant.

But if we see only our weaknesses, we will limit ourselves unnecessarily from our true potential. We will fail to pursue the possibilities that are open before us. We will lose our self-confidence and become dependent individuals. We will loathe ourselves and endlessly try to imitate other people whom we think are perfect.

Both are on the extreme ends. A healthy personality is built on acknowledgement of one’s own strengths and weaknesses.

Even Jesus himself accepted the limitations in his ministry. We often think that as God’s only Son, Jesus had it easy in his life. But that was not the testimony that we find in the Gospels. They clearly declared that Jesus faced hardship in his life, just like all of us.

In our reading today from Mark’s Gospel, we hear one obstacle that Jesus was unable or unwilling to resolve. Today we hear about the rejection from the people in his own village. There, Jesus found the limit of his ministry.

As a man, Jesus must have hoped that the people in his hometown would welcome him and his message. He was wrong. The people in his village were against him. They knew who he was before he became this famous and charismatic Rabbi. They knew his background as a carpenter. They knew his family. For them, this man was nothing but an ordinary man from their village who simply got lucky in other places.

It is interesting that they mentioned nothing about Jesus’ father, Joseph. They called him as the son of Mary, but not the son of Joseph.

This omission of Joseph makes some people suspect that Joseph had passed away by that time. And as the eldest son in his family, it was Jesus’ responsibility to take over Joseph’s role in the family. Jesus was responsible to care for his family, especially his mother, Mary. But instead of being the breadwinner for his family, he became a preacher who moved from one place to another. His decision may have angered the crowd who ‘took offense’ at him.

Or perhaps the villagers did not mention Joseph as a way to insult Jesus and smear his good reputation. He lived in a patriarchal society where everyone was identified by his/her father. But, against the custom, he was called as the son of Mary. Perhaps, that’s the way the crowd tried to remind him of his ‘illegitimate’ status. The identity of his father was ‘questionable’. As such, they wanted to encourage other people not to believe someone with such questionable status.

Whatever the reason, Jesus could not perform healing in his hometown as effective as he was in other places. The people’s rejection had a significant effect on his ministry.

One of my favourite Australian comedians is Wil Anderson. He is most known perhaps as the longtime presenter of the popular television show, Gruen, on ABC.

A few months ago, a report surfaced about his meltdown during a live filming of the show. Apparently, Anderson was not happy with the audience. He accused them of being a terrible audience who just sat back on their seats. When some audience members were brave enough to tell him that the segment was boring, he swore at them. He left the set immediately after the recording in an apparent ‘dummy spit’.

Later on, he told a radio broadcaster that the audience didn’t give him the energy that he needed. “They were not doing a good job,” he said.[1]

If the report was true, I think the kind of behaviour that he showed on the set was rather pathetic. Nevertheless, it is obvious from this incident that performer, like Anderson, draws his energy from his audience.

It was the same with Jesus. I’m not suggesting that Jesus swore at the villagers like Will Anderson did. But the effectiveness of his ministry correlated with the reception from the people that he served. Their rejection resulted in him not being able to exercise the kind of healing ministry that he did in other places.

But this limitation did not turn him into a sour individual like Anderson. The limitation did not despair him. Instead, it informed the decision that he made concerning the strategy in his ministry.

When he sent his disciples to other villages, he warned them of the rejection they may face. People would not welcome them with red carpet. Some would want to give them the boot. But they should not get bogged down with the rejection. They should keep moving to find others who would welcome them and their message.

Jesus saw himself as taking the mantle of the prophets before his time. Prophets were not always welcome by the people they served. Some were even murdered because of their message.

We see this in the life and ministry of the prophet Ezekiel. Even before he began, God warned him about the stubbornness of the people he was going to serve. Being a prophet was definitely not a glamorous job. Rejection was indeed a staple in the life of a prophet and Ezekiel must be ready to face it. If he dreamt of becoming a popular preacher that would draw thousands to his talk, he would be disappointed. If he thought that his words would move mountains and shape the world according to his will, he was wrong. He would face many obstacles. He would hit the wall, again and again. But he should not be discouraged. Like other prophets before and after him, Ezekiel was called not to be successful, but to be faithful.

We can also learn from Paul. After Jesus, Paul was a man who had significantly shaped Christianity from its humble beginning. His letters to different churches form close to one third of the entire New Testament.

But everything was not always rosy in his ministry. He too faced many oppositions. We can read this in his letter to the Corinthians. He was subjected to false rumors and some even made fun of his apparent weaknesses.

But Paul did not respond to these attacks by boasting about himself or his achievements. One thing for sure: he had plenty to be boastful about. But he did not want to win the battle for the heart of the Corinthians by being boastful.

Instead, he boasted about his own weaknesses. He did not deny his weaknesses. He admitted that he did have what he described as a “thorn in his flesh”. He had asked God three times to free him of this debilitating condition, but God refused his request. God reminded him that God’s power was made perfect in his weakness.

The Greek word that is translated as perfect, teletai, is better translated as “reaches full maturity”. We become mature as we acknowledge our weaknesses, our limits. Because when we acknowledge our weaknesses, we rely ever more on the power of Christ in our life.[2]

At the age 42, Tamar Piehler developed an illness that severely affected her motor skills. Her walk became uneven and her head tilted to the right. She developed other muscular problems that left her weak and sore.

But after living for four years in fear for the future, she finally made peace with her situation. She accepted that she may be confined to a wheelchair or worse. But she knew that, even then, God would be with her.

She was then directed to a skilled neurologist who diagnosed with a rare genetic condition. Her body did not produce enough dopamine, a chemical necessary for the nerves in the brain to function. She began taking medicine and improving slowly. After a year, she was able to walk, stand, and move correctly again.

She still relies on three doses of medicine every day. But she knows that she would never have known the depth of God’s love and strength without her weakness. She realizes that only after she stopped trying to solve the problem herself that she made enough room for God.[3]

Friends, life is not only about strengths; it is about weaknesses as well. Learning to accept our weaknesses, our limitations, is as important as learning to use our strengths. Our weaknesses are gateways that can lead us to a deeper place in our life.

May we have the courage to learn to go to that deeper place. Because there is where God is; the place where we can encounter and find wholeness in God’s love.

Amen.
Toby Keva

[1] Benedict Brook, Gruen Host Wil Anderson Accused of Having ‘Meltdown’ during Filming and Telling an Audience member to ‘f*** off’, on www.news.com.au (May 10, 2018 3:27 PM)

[2] Lois Malcolm, Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, www.workingpreacher.org (July 5, 2015)

[3] From a testimony by Tamar Piehler in The Upper Room Daily Devotional on August 10, 2017