|Abba Moses the Ethiopian|
In Scetis a brother was once found guilty. They assembled the brothers, and sent a message to Abba Moses telling him to come. But he would not come. Then the priest sent again saying, ‘Come, for the gathering of monks is waiting for you.’ Moses got up and went. He took with him an old basket, which he filled with sand and carried on his back. They went out to meet him and said, ‘What does this mean, abba?’ He said, ‘My sins run out behind me and I do not see them and I have come here today to judge another.’ They listened to him and said no more to the brother who had sinned but forgave him.
The monks of the Egyptian desert knew a thing or two about human nature, and our ability to make snap judgements, to listen to gossip, to be stubborn, to judge a book by its cover, to write people off and dismiss them. As they tried to live as a Christian community, built up together in love, they realised that it all starts with us at a personal level – we need to try to live the change which we want to see in the world around us. We won’t be very good at it, but if we try, and if we trust in God and if we forgive others and are forgiven by them then, who knows what God might do in our lives.
Likewise the people of Israel seem to be very good at grumbling and moaning at God – the do a lot of it in the desert on the way to the Promised Land, but are not quite so good at hearing what God has to say to them. The lot of the prophet, like Ezekiel in our first reading this morning, is not necessarily a happy one, but it is something which has to be done. He is sent to the obstinate, so a prophet may well be rejected, but he is called to proclaim the word of the Lord regardless. The prophetic vocation is what drives St Paul, the love of Christ compels him (cf. 2Cor 5:14). Thus when he is speaking to the church in Corinth he can say “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (2Cor 12:9-10) It is after all not about Paul, but all about Jesus, who loves us, and who saves us, whose triumph over sin, the world, and the devil looks rather like defeat – the execution of a Galilean blasphemer is what brings about the healing of this world. It is through the grace of God, an unmerited kindness, which we cannot earn, given to us so that we might respond to God’s call and share in his life, justified by grace and sanctified through charity. We may not have an encounter like Paul on the Road to Damascus, but that does not mean that God cannot or will not be at work in our lives. Despite our weakness God can and does use us, ordinary, frail, sinful human beings for the furtherance of his kingdom. It doesn’t make much sense – it goes against everything which we would expect, as Paul wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians, ‘For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’(1Cor 1:18)
The people of Nazareth are likewise more than a little surprised at the teaching and activity of someone whom they think that they know. There is something scandalously ordinary about the Incarnate Son of God – he grows up as a carpenter’s son in a backwater town. How can we take a God seriously who works like this? The people of Nazareth have this problem, and so Christ could do little because of their unbelief. Just like their forebears they are stubborn, unable and unwilling to look beyond the surface or to trust God to be at work. So Jesus heals the sick as a sign of the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of love, forgiveness, healing and restoration, and turns instead to his disciples. He calls his disciples to share in his work: to carry it on, as a matter of urgency, to preach repentance – to turn away from self and sin towards God; and the nearness of the Kingdom, shown through healing, a sign of what God in Christ is doing, and will do on the Cross and through His Resurrection.
The Church then exists to carry on this work of proclamation, to live it, despite our weakness, our sinfulness, relying on Christ rather than ourselves, or our own strength. Indeed, in our weakness we are reliant upon Christ, and thus we acquire humility, through which God can truly be at work in us, building us up in love, fed by Him, in Word and Sacrament, fed with Him, given a foretaste of eternal life in Christ, so that we may be strengthened by him to bear witness to His saving truth, so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.