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by Birgit Oberhofer | July 5, 2012
Scripture Reflection for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Sunday, July 8, 2012)
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
During my senior year in college I went through a very difficult time. I had taken on an internship with a company to work on a research project that I was planning to use also for my final thesis. It was the first time that I had a job where I had full responsibility over my work. Many days I didn’t feel like I was able to live up to the expectations that myself and others put on me. After that experience I continued non-stop through my final exams and my thesis. I was exhausted, tired and very vulnerable. I was afraid of failing – at work and at school. Being a perfectionist it was hard for me to accept that my project didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. I started doubting all of my choices in life and didn’t know how to go ahead.
I remember finding consolation in a reflection written by an Italian author who frequently quoted St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” And: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” These words from our second reading today gave me a sense of relief and peace during that difficult time.
In our achievement oriented world many people experience this chain-reaction at one point during their lives: perfectionism and high expectations – sense of failure – feeling rejected – low self-esteem – depression.
Interesting enough, all of our readings today describe similar situations: Ezekiel faces the rejection of the people of Israel; Paul is dealing with his own struggles and is confronted with the experience of his weakness; even Jesus is being rejected by his own people in his native place.
But the message that we can hear through our readings can bring about a revolution for our lives and the world we live in: God doesn’t care about our perfection and achievements! God doesn’t want us to be perfect – God wants our love, our trust, our faith! When the Lord sends Ezekiel to the Israelites, God already knows that the prophet will most likely be rejected. But God encourages Ezekiel with these words: “And whether they heed or resist – for they are a rebellious house – they shall know that a prophet has been among them.” And Ezekiel goes on - knowing that God is at his side and that failure or not doesn’t count- all he has to do is to be faithful to his calling.
Jesus is confronted with a similar situation in his home town. The people he encounters think they know everything about Jesus. They are not open to his message and therefore Jesus isn’t able to perform any miracles. But instead of being depressed, Jesus walks away “amazed at their lack of faith.” And wasn’t Jesus’ entire life a “big failure” after all? Jesus was supposed to safe the world – instead he was rejected and betrayed and eventually died a miserable death on the cross – as an outcast of society.
But we all know that Jesus’ death wasn’t the end of the story. Another spiritual writer once wrote that Jesus “loved us with suffering.” By going through the dark night of his physical, spiritual and emotional pains, Jesus filled all those voids with his love. The Church Fathers say "All that was assumed was redeemed." And the theologian Karl Rahner comments: “He assumed death; therefore death must be something more than a sunset into a meaningless void. He assumed the state of being forsaken; therefore loneliness contains in itself the promise of a happy and divine closeness. He assumed lack of success; therefore defeat can be a victory. He assumed abandonment by God; therefore God is close even when we think we have been forsaken by him. He assumed all; therefore all is redeemed.” (1)
The call to follow Jesus is not easy. It turns our life upside down. God is not logic. The logic of the cross changes our way of looking at suffering and weakness. Whatever we are going through: Jesus has already filled the void we are experiencing with love. Like St. Paul and the prophets, all we have to do is to let go of our perfectionism and our need of control and abandon ourselves to the love of God. “You are weak? Me too – it’s okay!” If we accept our limits, vulnerability and weakness, we will be more open to God’s grace and love. My hope is that we can all experience that God’s grace is sufficient for us, for “[God’s] power is made perfect in [our] weakness.” And: “For when I am weak, then I am strong!”
(1) K. Rahner, "Misteri della vita di Cristo, Ecce homo!", in Nuovi Saggi II, Rome, 1968, II: 173-174.
Birgit Oberhofer is originally from Munich, Germany where she graduated from Ludwigs-Maximilians-Universität with a Master of Arts in Education Science, Psychology and Theology in 1999. After two years of formation in Italy she became a consecrated member of the Focolare Movement, a lay ecclesial movement, living in one of their houses in Cologne, Germany. There she worked as a program developer and grant writer for one of the biggest charity organizations in Germany, running programs in the field of Adult Formation and Social Work. In December 2007 she moved to Chicago and became the Assistant Director of Catholics on Call in July 2008.