5th Sunday after Trinity
Proper 9: Ezekiel 2.1-5; Corinthians 12.2-10; Mark
Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body
of the Church is governed and sanctified: hear our prayer which we
offer for all your faithful people, that in their vocation and
ministry they may serve you in holiness and truth to the glory of
your name; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
THIS WEEK, we hear of visions, but neither Ezekiel's nor Paul's
visions alleviate their troubles. One minute Ezekiel was with
fellow exiles by the river in Babylon (Ezekiel 1.1); the next, he
was having extraordinary visions, and hearing that he was being
sent to impudent and stubborn rebels.
Psalm 137 expresses the exiles' despair and yearning for revenge
on their captors and betrayers; speaking to them about the ways of
God would be very hard work.
A few centuries later, another man committed to serving God,
whatever the cost, had to make sense of indescribable visions. To
boast or not to boast? He settled for boasting of his weakness,
which was brought into sharp focus by the power of God seen in the
A thorn in the flesh, from which the God who could give these
immense visions did not act to free him - despite three appeals -
was an unwelcome aid to keeping his perspective. Instead, Paul
learned that God's power was sufficient, and was made perfect in
the weakness that he experienced through his trials and
Jesus, too, had a vision from God at the beginning of his public
ministry (Mark 1.10-11), followed by trials in the wilderness, from
which he emerged to proclaim the reign of God in word and in
action. Now, after some extraordinary and exhausting events, he had
made the long walk to see his family, and was worshipping with his
There were no overt visions; instead, the power of his teaching
and actions - which should have been vision enough - raised
questions, and provoked doubts as well as faith. When the
miraculous hits the familiar, belief can be difficult.
The neighbours knew too much of Jesus's family to reconcile this
with the authority they saw in him. We can be sympathetic to their
perplexity: few of us would do better in their shoes. On the other
hand, we can be sympathetic to Jesus: being rejected, or at the
very least doubted, by your friends and family is hard (John 7.5).
Life was lonely back at home.
There is a poignant irony to the comment: "He could do no deeds
of power there except that he laid his hands on a few sick people
and healed them. And he was amazed at their unbelief." "Except that
. . .": healing even a few sick people is some exception, yet the
contrast of Jesus's limited ministry with the many miracles
performed by the Twelve when he sent them out (Mark 6.13) is
Jesus risked sending the disciples out, despite this uncertain
response. They had seen miracles, and they had seen people refuse
to believe. Like Ezekiel, they were going to stubborn people as
well as receptive people. Like Paul, they were going in weakness,
with no basic necessities for travel, placed in total dependence on
the people they met. If they were rejected, all they could do was
to move on to another uncertain reception, and remain faithful.
This week's collect prays for all faithful people in their
vocation and ministry to serve God in holiness and truth.
Mercifully, with God, holiness is manifest in the middle of the
muddle of life, as well as in its glorious moments; holiness is not
circumstantial, but the fruit of intentional faithfulness to God,
whatever our situation.
Ezekiel, Paul, Jesus, and the disciples all experienced God's
holiness in the midst of their tribulations, their tangles and
struggles. To have visions or see miracles is not enough: if they
are granted, they may encourage us (and perhaps unsettle us), but
what matters is how we live as a result, especially in the midst of
people who do not have faith in God.
Ezekiel, Paul, and the disciples all struggled - the Bible is
honest about that - but kept going. Our example is Jesus, who,
despite disappointing, astounding unbelief, still performed a few
miracles, and transformed a few lives.
Come, holy God, refine your Church,
hallow to us our poverty:
we would be rich in holiness,
servants of him who sets us free.
Our listlessness transform with power,
our meagre love with love divine,
come, Holy Spirit, breath of God,
as wind disturb, as fire refine.