GOD IS SPEAKING – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9, Year B; Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (RC)

July 7, 2024

Revised Common Lectionary
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 or Ezekiel 2:1-5
Psalm 48 or Psalm 123
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Ezekiel 2:2-5
Psalm 123:1-2, 2, 3-4 (2cd)
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Mark 6:1-6

In 1852, more than ten years before the abolition of slavery in the United States, Frederick Douglass was invited to deliver the keynote address at an Independence Day event. Douglass, who had himself escaped enslavement in 1838, put to his hearers this pointed question: “What to a slave is the Fourth of July?”

He then went on to issue a scathing critique: “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” As we look back on this past week’s national holiday celebrations in both the United States and Canada, Douglass’ address is a reminder that there are many people on the margins of society who are left out and do not participate fully in the benefits that these holidays are meant to celebrate.

On this first Sunday of July, we hear the story of Ezekiel’s call to be a prophet. The Holy One sends him with a commission that sounds a lot like the task that Frederick Douglass undertook on that Independence Day in 1852: “Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day” (Ez 2:3).

Like all the biblical prophets, Ezekiel was sent to communicate a message from God to the people. The Holy One offers no guarantee of success but rather prepares the prophet for rejection: “Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them” (Ez 2:5).

As he proclaimed the coming reign of God in word and deed, Jesus himself experienced rejection, even among those who knew him best. In today’s Gospel reading he returns to his hometown to teach in the synagogue. The people there found it hard to swallow that someone so ordinary, someone whose family members were well known to them, could possibly speak words of wisdom or perform powerful deeds in the name of God. And so, the Gospel writer tells us, “they took offense at him” (Mk 6:3).

If the hometown ministry of Jesus had been billed as an evangelistic campaign, it would surely have been rated a disaster. Indeed, “he was amazed at their unbelief” (Mk 6:6) and “could do no deed of power there” (Mk 6:5). It seems remarkable then that on the heels of this colossal failure, Jesus proceeds to send his disciples out two by two to extend his mission.

Among the many instructions that he provides them, he includes this one that foreshadows the rejection they will face after his death and resurrection: “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” (Mk 6:11).

For the biblical prophets, for the early disciples, and even for Jesus himself, accepting the commission to speak and act on God’s behalf often meant rejection, persecution, and even death. Those who carry on that mission today likewise face resistance, ridicule, indifference, and more. As I watch the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II lead the Poor People’s Campaign or witness advocacy for immigrants and refugees by other faith leaders, I’m deeply impressed by the joy and hope that characterize their work even as they carry on the prophetic task of communicating hard truths.

Today’s Scriptures challenge us to become attuned to the voices of the prophets among us. How is God speaking to us and encouraging us to meet the challenges of this time, to take an active role in opposing policies and dismantling structures that benefit the privileged at the expense of others? Where are we hearing the voices of the prophets today—and are we listening?

A Hymn for Today: “God has spoken by the prophets”

British hymnwriter George Wallace Briggs, an Anglican priest, submitted this text in a call for hymns to mark the publication of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. Of the five hundred texts submitted, this was of the ten selected and subsequently published in a collection entitled Ten New Hymns on the Bible (1953). Briggs employed a Trinitarian structure to express how God’s message, proclaimed faithfully in the past by prophets and by Christ, continues to be spoken in the world through God’s Spirit. Listen here.

God has spoken by the prophets,
Spoken his unchanging word,
Each from age to age proclaiming
God, the one, the righteous Lord.
In the world’s despair and turmoil,
One firm anchor holds us fast:
God eternal reigns forever,
God the first and God the last.

God has spoken by Christ Jesus,
Christ, the everlasting Son,
Brightness of the Father’s glory,
With the Father ever one;
Spoken by the Word incarnate,
God from God, before time was;
Light from Light, to earth descending,
Christ reveals our God to us.

God is speaking by the Spirit,
Speaking to our hearts again,
In the ageless Word declaring
God’s own message, now as then.
Through the rise and fall of nations
One sure faith is holding fast:
God abides, his word unchanging,
God the first and God the last.

Text: George W. Briggs, 1875-1959, alt. © 1953, 1981, The Hymn Society, admin. by Hope Publishing Company

Image Credit: Seventy-two Disciples, Page from “The Gospel Book, the main liturgical book used in the Ethiopian liturgy, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

To receive these weekly reflections by email, please send a message to office@thehymnsociety.org and type “Lectionary” in the subject line.