Proper 9 (July 5, 2009)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Ezek. 2:1-5; Ps. 123; II Cor. 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13
This week we traveled to northern Iraq where we met MCC partners who are doing impressive and courageous work. We experienced hospitality in a number of Iraqi homes and heard many stories about daily life.
Since the war in 2003, much of the Christian community in Iraq has either left the country or fled to Ainkawa and other towns in the north. Not only have individuals and families been uprooted, but entire institutions such as schools and orphanages as well.
We stayed at St. Peter’s Seminary, which trains the Chaldean Catholic priests who serve across Iraq. MCC provides an English language teacher to the seminary, which was formerly located in Baghdad.
We visited two new MCC Global Family partners. Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus are a Chaldean order of Catholic nuns who operate a kindergarten for some 300 children, using tents as classrooms. St. Anne’s Orphanage provides a loving home for young girls.
We also spoke with a priest from Baghdad, who described his harrowing experience of being kidnapped. He continues to serve as a parish priest and to run a school for a diverse group of children in Baghdad.
We were in Iraq on the day that U.S. troops officially pulled out of major urban areas. Among Iraqis, there seems to be a mixture of excitement and fear. There is a sense of pride that Iraqis are now “in charge” and yet concern that the coming months could witness a serious rise in ethnic violence.
The Common Lectionary readings this week are about our vulnerability and dependence on God.
In the Old Testament reading, the priest and prophet Ezekiel is dependent on God for courage and protection. God calls Ezekiel to speak to the people of Israel, whom God describes as rebellious, impudent and stubborn (Ezek. 2:3-4). God says that, whether or not the people listen, Ezekiel is not to be afraid of their words or looks (v. 6).
The psalmist describes our dependence on God’s mercy. “As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,” writes the psalmist, “so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon us” (Ps. 123:2).
In the Epistle reading, Paul describes his dependence on God’s grace. Paul says that he has been given a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from becoming too elated or proud of the extraordinary visions that he has received (II Cor. 12:7). Three times Paul prays for God to take away the thorn, but God responds, “My grace is sufficient for you…” (v.9a).
In the Gospel reading, the disciples are dependent on God’s provision. Jesus sends them out two by two to proclaim a message of repentance and to heal the sick. He orders them to take nothing except a staff, “no bread, no bag, no money in their belts” (Mark 6:8).
We spend much of our energy trying not to be vulnerable or dependent. But this week’s Lectionary readings remind us God’s power is most at work precisely in such moments. “My power is made perfect in weakness,” God reassures Paul (II Cor. 12:9b). And in their time of vulnerability, Jesus’ disciples – by God’s power — cast out demons and heal the sick (Mark 6:13).
We saw this reality being lived out by our sisters and brothers in Iraq this week. We pray that we will more fully embrace our weaknesses and dependence as opportunities for God’s Spirit to work in extraordinary ways.