14th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Power in Weakness

We live in a world that idolizes power.

It may be physical power - as in the skills of great athletes; or financial power - having the wealth to do whatever you want; or even the power of fame - people knowing you and valuing your opinions.

We hold up people with power as an ideal: "If only I could be like that, then my life would be perfect ... if I had that much money or if people would just listen to me." We can grow envious of people with power, feeling like somehow we've been cheated out of something that we deserve.

The world thinks that way - and because we live in the world, Christians can fall prey to that perspective. It happens when we think that a politician or a country or a party can bring about some kind of heaven on earth. Or when we start using the world's tactics of power to accomplish things we see as good, ignoring the very real people who may be hurt by our actions.

We may live in the world, but we shouldn't be of the world. We belong to the Kingdom of God, which, as we heard in our readings today, operates from a very different perspective.

In our first reading, from the prophet Zechariah, we heard about a conquering King, returning to Israel; but rather than coming on a war horse, He rides on a donkey - not an animal that you would ride into battle. In fact, he banishes chariots and horses and weapons of war from the land. "He shall proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth."

This victorious King shows us the kind of power that God expects in His kingdom - which is fulfilled in the person of Jesus.

In the Gospel, Jesus praises His Father that His message of salvation isn't something for the powerful and proud - "you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike."

Jesus, who is that victorious King that Zechariah foretold, rejoices that it is the small and the weak who are able to perceive the Kingdom of God while those who seem strong in the eyes of the world are unable to understand.

That is an incredibly important lesson for all of us.

There may be days when we feel pretty on top of our game - confident in ourselves and happy with who we are; but I suspect that, for most of us, we struggle with feeling inadequate when it comes to our relationship with God.

There are sins that we keep going back to over and over again, no matter how many times we confess it. We have bad habits that never seem to get any better. When we look at the lives of the saints or even other people that we know, we just think, "I'll never be like that."

In short, we feel weak.

Well, today I want to tell you that feeling weak is not a bad place to be. When we recognize our weakness, it's then that we really start to learn to depend on God.

Jesus didn't tell us, "Go! Be holy all on your own. I'll watch." He said, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."

Our Lord came to call those who are imperfect - those who can't make it on their own, and, good news, that is every single one of us. We can't do this alone. We have to be constantly returning to the Lord, in our weakness, and surrendering everything to Him - every single day of our lives. 

For Christians, there is no time when we're suddenly done, no time when we can just put our spiritual lives in auto-pilot. Discipleship - and we are all disciples - is the work of a lifetime. Don't be discouraged that you're not done yet - we're not done until the end.

I learned about a new saint this week - St. Mark Ji Tianxiang. St. Mark was a Christian doctor in 19th century China who used his skills to serve the poor for free. When he became sick with a stomach problem, he began to treat himself with opium - something normal for the time - but eventually became addicted to the drug.

He would confess this over and over again, refusing to surrender to the addiction; but at that time addiction wasn't understood in the way we understand it now. The priest he confessed to saw him as an unrepentant sinner and told him he couldn't keep going to confession if he didn't intend to change his ways. That meant St. Mark couldn't receive the Eucharist either.

In this situation, it would be pretty understandable for him just to give up - to just give in to the hold this drug had on him - but he didn't. He just kept doing his best - he kept showing up and hoping that he would have the chance to lay down his life for the Lord. That chance came in 1900 when the Boxer Rebels arrested foreigners and Christians. Though Mark Ji Tianxiang struggled with his addiction to the end, he also died a martyr, singing a litany to the Blessed Mother.

Being a Christian is not about having the strength and willpower to be holy. It's about recognizing your weakness and relying on the Lord who saves us and makes us holy.