Have you ever had one of those days when you want to be a good Christian, but no matter what you do, it seems to go wrong? When you feel like you are just not good enough to be a witness to your faith in your words and deeds – or at least, like you are not good enough to reach the people you most want to bring to God?
If so, then today’s readings should be encouraging. We hear how three important figures in the Bible – the prophet Ezekiel, the Apostle Paul, and Our Lord Himself – experience difficulty in their ministry. In part, the difficulty is due to the attitudes of the people to whom God’s word is being proclaimed. In the first reading, God Himself calls the Israelites rebellious, hard-faced, and obstinate of heart, and warns Ezekiel that he will likely be rejected. In the Gospel reading, the people of the Lord’s own home town reject His message because they have no faith, and cannot see past the human aspect of the origins of Jesus. But also, the difficulty in preaching came also from the preachers. Although Our Lord Jesus is perfect, Paul was most definitely not. He willingly acknowledged his own weaknesses, which contributed to the “insults, hardships, and persecutions” that he had to face. Ezekiel probably had his foibles too, and they may have affected his effectiveness as a prophet.
The really important thing is that the readings also make clear that these difficulties and weaknesses are no obstacle for God. He can and will work through us in our weaknesses. In fact, God seems to prefer it that way. He promises Ezekiel that “whether they heed or resist […] they shall know that a prophet has been among them.” St. Paul says that God’s “power is made perfect in weakness”; that he, Paul, will do what he can, but God is the one who will make Paul’s efforts bear fruit. Because the instrument is weak and inadequate, it will be obvious that any good fruit comes from God. In fact, the fruits of Paul’s ministry ended up being key for the future of Europe. Lastly, although Jesus Himself seems unable to bring some people to accept the Good News, that very rejection and apparent failure lead to His death and resurrection, which transform the lives of millions of people.
We are called at Baptism to share in the missionary duty of the Church to proclaim the Gospel to all nations, starting with our own families and friends. Some people are called to be missionaries and preachers, dedicating their lives full-time to evangelization, but all of the baptized are called to be witnesses to Christ, living our faith and helping others to live it by our example. There are times when it may seem that we are failing or have already failed in this duty. We can have a hard time when family members whom we love – often our grown children or siblings – stop going to Church or start living a lifestyle contrary to the Gospel. We could want to ask, “Where did I go wrong? Why can’t I help this person come back to the Church?”
This is where we look to today’s readings for encouragement. They show us that God can draw victory from what looks like failure. Our weakness is part of God’s plan. As Mother Theresa of Calcutta used to say, “God doesn’t call us to be successful; He calls us to be faithful.” What really matters is that we do our best to be faithful Christians, loving God and neighbor. If we are faithful, God will work through us to bring about good results for the salvation of the world, albeit in ways that we do not expect, and may not see in our own lifetimes. Let us praise the Lord for His goodness in choosing us, and do our best each day to be good and faithful servants.