Our humanity is the most difficult part of our existence to accept, especially if we’re followers of God. We falsely believe that once we step into God’s world, everything will be different. All imperfections disappear; what was tough becomes easy. Our humanity will fade into the background. Yet, when our sacred authors are at their best, they faithfully remind us of the human dimension of God working in our lives.

Ezekiel certainly comes face to face with that aspect in the first reading (Ez 2: 2-5). Yahweh doesn’t gloss over the people’s humanness to whom He’s sent prophets. They are "rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day. Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you."

Their frame of mind offers the prophet little chance for success. Because they’re so blatantly human, Yahweh hopes to accomplish only one thing through Ezekiel: Eventually "they shall know that a prophet has been among them."

Obstacles

Yet the recipients of God’s word are just one of the obstacles to God’s plan. Often the proclaimer of that word is just as limited by his or her own frailty. Paul’s reflection in the second reading (2 Cor 12: 7-10) is classic: "That I, Paul, might not become too elated,....a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me."

Paul’s thorn could have been malaria, an illness which would have severely restricted his missionary endeavors. Whatever it was, Paul turns it into an asset. "I am content" he writes, "with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong."

In the face of his humanity, Paul pens one of his most famous lines: "Power is made perfect in weakness."

If Paul is right, then Mark tells us the historical Jesus was very powerful (Mark 6: 1-6). Not only does Jesus confront an Ezekiel-type audience, He also must deal with His own human limitations. We’re accustomed to make a big thing out of the first problem; our Christian training leads us to ignore the second.

We quickly get Mark’s message about the crowd’s hardness of heart. Even Jesus, he mentions, "was amazed at their lack of faith." But notice what he says about Jesus.

Blocking Jesus

First, His occupation is an obstacle to His ministry. "Is He not the carpenter?" Second, His family isn’t situated very high on the social ladder. "Is He not...the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?" Third, there are certain things not even He can do: "He was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying His hands on them."

To understand the impact of Mark’s comments about Jesus’ limits, critics insist we look at how Matthew narrates the same event. If you turn to Matthew 13: 54-58 and compare it to Mark’s account, you’ll notice the former removes two of the three limits Mark’s Jesus labors under. Matthew keeps his predecessor’s comment about the family.

But Jesus is no longer "the carpenter." He’s now "the carpenter’s son." And where Mark mentioned Jesus "was not able to perform any mighty deed," Matthew changes it to "He did not work many mighty deeds." There’s a huge difference between "could not" and "did not."

It seems our early Christian authors had the same problem that beset Jesus’ audience in Nazareth. Just as Jesus’ humanity blocked His former acquaintances from understanding who He really was, so His own disciples made Him more acceptable by eventually removing those limits from their narratives.

Faith doesn’t eliminate our humanity. It just helps us look at it from a different perspective.

(07-03-03)