When you go to a library or bookstore, there's often a whole section dedicated to self-help books. These books claim to be guides to improving yourself and helping you become more self-sufficient, improving your strengths while reducing or eliminating your weaknesses. If you follow these books, the authors assure you, you'll be more successful in business, relationships, and any activity you put your mind towards doing. It's all about you improving yourself so that you'll be successful in whatever you want to do.
While improving yourself is not a bad thing, as we should always be striving to overcome our faults and failings, today's readings provide an alternative message to these self-help books. Instead of a message of personal strength, we see examples of personal weakness allowing God's strength to shine through. Likewise, in the Gospel we see what happens when we put our focus on ourselves and what we know or believe.
Starting with the Gospel, Jesus returns to His home town of Nazareth and is confronted by townspeople about His teaching and healing. Of course, they've known Him most of His earthly life, and are quick to bring up who He is and what family He's from. This is not an uncommon event, especially in small towns. Someone returns home after an extended absence, and everyone starts talking about what this person did in his or her life. This person may have done and seen many great things, but everyone remembers times in that person's life when he made mistakes or bad decisions. He may be well-known and respected throughout the world, but not always in his home town.
The same thing happened to Jesus. The people of Nazareth thought they knew who Jesus was. After all, some of His family still lived there in town, and they knew that His father, Joseph, was a carpenter. How dare He preach to them, since they thought that He was no better than the rest of them.
Of course, the people of Nazareth didn't completely know Jesus as well as they thought, but they weren't open to hearing what He had to say. They had closed off their minds to anything other than their own opinions, and were unwilling to admit that they didn't know. Instead, as the Gospel tells us, the people “took offense at him.” Because they were so sure they knew who Jesus was that they were upset that He dared try to teach them. He was unable to work many miracles there because the people of Nazareth were unwilling to put any faith in Him.
Of course, being strong-willed was not a new thing at Jesus time. In the first reading, we see the Prophet Ezekiel being sent by God to lead the people of Israel back to Him. Israel had once again begun to ignore God's promptings and were instead following its own path. Ezekiel's job was to call Israel back and open their hearts to God so that He could once again bless the nation of Israel.
In this reading, we are given two contrasting ways of responding to God's call in our lives. First, we see Ezekiel's openness to God, and see how Ezekiel's openness allowed God to work through him to reach Israel. On the other hand, we see the stubbornness of Israel, calling them “obstinate of heart”, which prevents God from working through them.
While Ezekiel is sent to the nation of Israel, being obstinate of heart is not only on a community or national level. Each of us can be hard-hearted towards God. In fact, this reading presents us with a choice. Do we come before the Lord weak and open to Him, or do we rely on our own strength and close ourselves off to the Lord?
St. Paul encourages us to come before the Lord in weakness, relying on God's grace and not on our own strength. As St. Paul tells us, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” God's power can only work in and through us when we realize that we are weak and powerless before him. If we try to remain self-sufficient and rely on our own power, we close ourselves off from the graces that God wants to bestow on us.
We all want to be self-sufficient and rely on our own strength, but God's graces can only work within those who are weak enough to accept them. May we come before Him weak and open to His will.