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Faith in humanity

One of the signs that the Pastors or Shepherds of the Church have failed is when the laity remain as a mindless herd

When we talk of faith, almost always, what we mean is our faith in God.

Today our readings teach us also about the other aspect of faith: God’s faith in our humanity. Our usual problem about this is our low self-esteem about our humanity which we tend to equate or associate with being fallen, with weakness, hypocrisy, and sinfulness.

Our Gospel reading today tells us the people of Nazareth “took offense” at Jesus when they found out that he was just one of them. Remember how Nathaniel reacted the same way when Philip told him they had found the messiah and that he was from Nazareth? He said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”




It appears that the people of Nazareth thought the same way about themselves anyway. It is what Mark is telling us when he says they took offense at Jesus. And they are no different from us; we would always prefer a messiah who is alien to us, someone who is different from us, better than us. Someone who comes from heaven and is made of a different stuff. We want him to come like a superhero. We don’t want a messiah who is human like us precisely because we expect him to save us from our human weakness.

Even Saint Paul is saying something like this in our second reading. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he is candidly admitting that even in his life of conversion as an apostle, he continued to struggle with his human weakness. We do not know exactly what he meant when he mentioned about his “thorn in the flesh.” But he says he begged God three times in his prayers to remove his weakness but God told him, “My grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection.”

In short, God wanted Paul to allow divinity to work out through his humanity the way it did with the human Jesus. He says it was meant to keep him from falling into the same sin of pride as Satan’s, who became too confident in his own power. Paul was being taught to discover the paradox of “power in weakness.” That it is only when he has come to terms with his weakness in all humility that God’s power could become truly manifest in him.

We also hear basically the same message in our first reading from Ezekiel where the prophet is told to just do his job as a prophet, whether he is rejected or listened to. He is being addressed by God as a “son of man.” Meaning, God intends to communicate his divine message through the prophet’s humanity, through his human words and actions. Whether the people would heed or resist him, God says they shall know eventually that “a prophet has been among them.”

Residents of the city of Marikina in the outskirts of the Philippine capital cross a flooded street at the height of typhoon “Ulysses” on November 12. (Photo by Gil Nartea)
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In an earlier part of the same second letter to the Corinthians, Paul refers to the ministry of an apostle as being like an “earthen vessel” bearing the treasure of the Gospel. He says God has willed it this way precisely to make it clear to us who serve as bearers of the Gospel, that the surpassing power of the message we bring comes from God and not from us.

Perhaps the most radical thing about the Christian faith is our doctrine of incarnation. Namely, that we profess faith in the human Jesus, in the carpenter from Nazareth, as God! The reaction is to be expected; people would say, how can you call a mere human being God? But this is precisely what is most unique about our faith. God does not save us by getting rid of our humanity and divinizing us but rather by humanizing himself and restoring our faith in the basic goodness of humanity. He chose to save us by becoming human like us. And he did this, not only so that he could work FOR US, but more importantly, so that he could work WITH US AND THROUGH US.

Can we really do as Jesus did? Can we really have power over evil spirits as he did? Heal as he did? Multiply loaves as he did? Forgive as he did? Walk on water as he did? Love as he did? Suffer and die as he did? Resurrect as he did?

Jesus tried very hard to mentor his disciples so they could grow into apostles, from mere followers to his representatives, from beneficiaries of his mission to his partners in mission. It is still the same issue up to now with the people whom we work with. Many would rather remain as followers or beneficiaries, as members of a helpless community waiting for a perfect savior rather than being part of a liberating, redeeming or saving community. They pray to be blessed but never grow into blessings; they ask to be healed, but never grow into healers. They prefer to listen to the word of God, but they never grow into fellow proclaimers of the Word of God themselves.

Blessed Virgin Mary in evacuation center
A woman holds on to an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary in an evacuation center in the town of Makilala, North Cotabato province, in the southern Philippines. (Photo by Bong Sarmiento)

Remember that scene in Luke chapter 24, when the risen Jesus appeared to those two disciples who were running away from Jerusalem. How they failed to recognize him at first? Remember how Jesus had to walk and talk with them first and set their hearts on fire by opening the Scriptures to them? How he broke bread with them and then—disappeared?

He disappeared so that he could reappear in them and through them. That is why their fear was turned into courage; their sadness into joy. Through the fire burning in their hearts, now Jesus could continue his work through them. It is what it means to be an apostle. The mystery of God’s incarnation must continue with us, members of the Church, the body of Christ.

He ascended into heaven so that he could send us the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit descended on the community of disciples, so that through his power at work in us, we could become a community of apostles now sent IN HIS NAME.

Among the key words emphasized at the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II), the ones I consider most important are the terms “Lay Empowerment” and “Participatory Church.” One of the signs that the Pastors or Shepherds of the Church have failed is when the laity remain as a mindless herd, as a flock of perpetual followers, and never grow into fellow Shepherds or participants in the mission of the Church.

It is precisely for this reason that Pope Francis keeps reminding us to get rid of the clericalistic attitudes that continue to plague the Church like a pandemic. If the laity continue to think of the clergy as their saviors, they will always be scandalized whenever they realize that they too have feet of clay. They will never grow into fellow participants in the saving work of the Messiah who is supposed to be at work in all the members of his body, the Church.

Remember what I’ve said to you many times before: we are called not just to be Christians but to be Christ. Yes, in the very crassness of our humanity, which is a work in progress.

Homily of Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan on the the 14TH Sunday in Ordinary Time, 04 July 2021, Mk 6:1-6a

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