Imagine you have been entrusted with the task of delivering a challenging message to a person or group that is extremely likely to reject it. What do you do? Almighty God instructs you that He is sending you with a message, but you will be encountered with either a rebellious spirit, a profound stubbornness, or an obstinate heart. Nevertheless, you must deliver the message.
Veteran pastoral ministers and servant leaders are not unfamiliar with this prophetic experience that we read about in the book of the Prophet Ezekiel (2:2-5). How difficult it is to speak with people who are unwilling to listen! But when “Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for His mercy,” (Ps 123 ), we somehow are able to go forth, prophesy, and fulfill our mission.
A Prophet Is Not Without Honor Except…
This biblical passage from the book of Ezekiel is part of the readings for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B). These particular readings speak to the hearts of preachers and ministry teams devoted to Evangelization. Occasionally, we may “become too elated, because of the abundance of the revelations,” (2nd reading – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10) or the abundance of wonderful deeds that have occurred through our apostolate. However, it is experiences like Ezekiel’s that remind us that without God we are nothing and cannot accomplish anything truly fruitful. No matter how challenging is the task we are confronting or how powerless we may feel, our Lord reminds us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for [My] power is made perfect in weakness.” (2nd reading)
Surprisingly, Jesus Christ felt somewhat “powerless” when He came to His native place and began to teach in the synagogue. We read in Mark’s Gospel (chapter 6:1-6) that the people who listened knew His family and background and did not embrace Him, rather they became uncomfortable, raised questions concerning His authority, and felt ashamed and humiliated as He spoke. Therefore, “He was not able to perform any mighty deed there.” Along with the two readings from Ezekiel and 2nd Corinthians, this Markan Gospel passage offers us three fundamental words to help address within our ministries some of the challenges we may encounter in the work of Evangelization. These connected words are authority, familiarity, and humility. Briefly defining these terms will serve to inform how our ministries can overcome certain obstacles that arise in our mission to proclaim the Good News.
The Power of Authority, Familiarity, and Humility
Authority is the legitimate right to command, rule, or reach certain determinations. According to biblical tradition, authority came from God. Hence, the biblical figures from Genesis to Revelations that exerted some type of influence over people were seen as authorized by God. In a ministerial context, this term can, in a sense, be understood as the legitimate right to serve, to teach, or to preach, etc.
Familiarity is an intimate acquaintance with or knowledge of someone. When there is familiarity, people naturally treat one another casually. There is an openness in communication that is generally unreserved. We observed this between Jesus and the Three Apostles, Peter, James, and John.
Lastly, humility is to voluntarily lower oneself in such a manner that one does not feel or demonstrate an elevated opinion of oneself. St. John Chrysostom once stated that, “Humility is the root, mother, nurse, foundation, and bond of all virtue.” Countless saints, including St. Thomas Villanova and St. Mother Teresa have also stated that humility is the mother of all virtues. It is the one virtue that Jesus closely identified with and urged us to imitate, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.” (Mt 11:29)
Honoring Our Fellow Pastoral Ministers
As co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord, ordained and non-ordained ministers ought to grasp in Christ’s words – “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house” – not only a personal challenge but also a ministerial one. All too often, those of us who actively serve in (ordained and non-ordained) ministries are like the multitude that questioned Jesus’ authority and took offense at Him as He taught in the synagogue. The familiarity that exists among members of the ordained, a religious order, lay ministry team, or co-workers in a parish can occasionally result in ministers focusing too much on the perceived faults and imperfections of their fellow ministers. In a sense, we dishonor them as they serve God’s people when we entertain those thoughts that recall their past errors and misdeeds, question their underlying intentions, discredit their genuineness or doubt their worthiness to serve. This fosters an environment of poor faith similar to that which impeded Jesus from performing any mighty deed.
Rather than dishonor our fellow ministers and co-workers in God’s vineyard, we must honor our fellow servant leaders and pastoral ministers for the love of God. With gratitude to God, we must humbly acknowledge that each of them has been baptized in Christ, empowered by the Spirit to serve, and entrusted with a unique mission for the Kingdom of God. Having been called and chosen by God, they have also been authorized by God to serve with God’s power in Jesus’ name. Therefore, the ministry team must honor and esteem one another for God’s glory and joyfully acknowledge the fact that their fellow ministers have been called, chosen, and authorized by God to serve.
Contemplating the Glory of God
As pastoral ministers, it is crucial that we grow in our familiarity with God through prayer. It is in our frequent encounters with Christ that our faith will develop and our ministerial authority will mature so that we can accomplish the mighty deeds that should necessarily follow our preaching and teaching. If we are not seeing more conversions, signs, healings, and miracles in our midst, it is not because God has suddenly lost His power, wisdom, and goodness. Did Christ not foretell, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father”? (Jn 14, 12) The norm should be that we regularly contemplate the manifestation of God’s glory whenever we serve.
The authority we possess to serve and the familiarity we have with the Lord demands that we practice humility. If we “become too elated, because of the abundance of the revelations,” or the abundance of wonderful deeds that have occurred through our apostolate, then we run the risk of thinking too highly of ourselves. We must ensure that our perceived ministerial authority and familiarity with the Lord does not lead to a prideful spirit that becomes unrecognizable within us. We must never cease to passionately pray for that humility which is necessary to wholeheartedly desire to give God all praise and to perceive in our fellow ministers and neighbors a greater manifestation of God’s presence and grace than within ourselves. This humility of heart will lead us through this apostolic journey to the gates of heaven.