Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Ad Hominem Disasters

“Hard of face and obstinate of heart,” the Lord calls them in today’s first reading. The Hebrews ended up being conquered by the Babylonians and taken into exile to what is modern day Iraq.

Jul 03, 2021

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Readings: Ezekiel 2:2-5;
2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Gospel: Mark 6:1-6

They didn’t recognise God working in Ezekiel. He was too much of a fanatic for them. A  bit of a kook. Paul wasn’t all that some thought  he would be. He was a little guy, probably with  a high squeaky voice, certainly not a great orator. They didn’t recognise that Jesus was the  Word of God among them. They had watched  him grow up. Today’s readings present what I  would call three

Ad Hominem disasters. An Ad Hominem argument is an attack on  an argument based on the person presenting  it. It basically says that because a person has  this or that foible, limitation, or failing, we  shouldn't listen to him or her no matter what he  or she says. For example, someone says that it  is wrong for a nation to steal land from another  nation like Russia did in the Ukraine regarding  Crimea. The person with the opposite viewpoint, instead of countering with something  like, “Russia owned this land 120 years ago,”  says, “Well, you don’t have the education to  argue with me, and besides, you’re fat and fat  people don’t know what they are talking about.  And your mother dresses you funny.” An Ad  Hominem argument is the weakest of all arguments because it does not consider the facts, and  just attacks the person presenting the opinion.

Ezekiel was the victim of an Ad Hominem attack. Here’s the background: The Book of the  Prophet Ezekiel comes from the beginning of  the Babylonian Captivity, around 580 BC. After the people of Israel had fallen into pagan  practices, trusting in military treaties with pagan neighbours rather than trusting in God, the Lord  withdrew His protection. Like the Pharaoh in the days of Moses, the people became more and  more obstinate, refusing to listen to the prophets. 

“Hard of face and obstinate of heart,” the Lord  calls them in today’s first reading. The Hebrews  ended up being conquered by the Babylonians  and taken into exile to what is modern day Iraq. 

At the beginning of this exile, the people felt absolutely deserted. Some believed that they were  being punished for their sins. But many others  refused to believe in God any more. “If Yahweh  exists, He would not have allowed this to happen,” they claimed. Instead of drawing closer to  God in their need, they rejected His very existence. But God gave the spirit of prophesy to one  of these exiles. His name was Ezekiel. Ezekiel  said that God set him on his feet; God gave him  standing among a downtrodden people. Some  would listen to him. Some wouldn’t. With Ezekiel, as with all of the prophets, God  used one of their own to speak to the people.  The humble accepted this. The proud could  not accept this. This hubris, this pride, was destructive. It resulted in disaster for the people  refusing to listen to the Word of God because  they could not fathom that God would speak to  them through this or that everyday man. They  levelled an Ad Hominem argument against Ezekiel.

The Ad Hominem argument was also the  basis of the criticism that many in Corinth had  regarding St Paul. In 2 Corinthians 10:10 we  read, “For someone will say, ‘His letters are  severe and forceful, but his bodily presence is  weak, and his speech contemptible.’” Many  of the Corinthians were no longer following  the teachings of Paul because he did not cut  the figure that they experienced in some of the  other people who spoke to them. St Paul humbly says in today’s reading that he knows he  can be weak, in fact he speaks about a thorn in  the flesh that he prays that God would remove,  but he says that his own weakness shows the  Power of God in his words. For the Kingdom of  God has advanced. Many have become followers of Christ, not because of Paul, but because  God worked through this weak man. Sadly, too  many Corinthians would not allow themselves  to be open to this truth. They were stuck in a  disastrous Ad Hominem argument. For many, it  did not make sense to listen to this little man.

This destructive hubris is particularly and  painfully evident in those who rejected Jesus  because He was one of them, too familiar to  them. His mighty deeds, His miracles, His wisdom, the power of His speaking, were lost on  people who could not get beyond the fact that  this was the carpenter’s son speaking. They  knew His family. They missed the words of the  Greatest of All Prophets because they were too  proud to hear them. Their Ad Hominem attack  led to their not receiving the gifts of the Messiah  as promised by the prophet Isaiah. The Gospel  concludes with Jesus saying to them:

“A prophet is not without honour except in  his native place and among his own kin and in  his own house.”

And then it concludes:

“He was not able to perform any mighty deed  there, apart from curing a few sick people by  laying his hands on them. He was amazed at  their lack of faith.”

We also can easily be caught up in Ad Hominem arguments and miss the truth when it is  right in front of us. The Ad Hominem argument  prevents us from recognising the possibility that  truth can emanate from someone we know. For  example, a home ownership group is meeting  regarding the designs for a community centre.  Someone we might know who can be quite  mean, stands up in the meeting and says, “We  should design the building in such a way that  all the members of our community, including  those with physical challenges, should feel welcome.” Do we hear the truth of the statement,  or do we miss the truth because we are so focused on the foibles of the one speaking? Or  far closer to home, husbands and wives know  each others’ foibles and failures. Often, this prevents them from hearing the truth come from  their spouse. So many teens cannot get beyond  their parent’s humanity to hear the truth of their  Mom and Dad’s advice. So many parents cannot get beyond their teens’ lapses in maturity to  recognise their virtues.

Perhaps the Ad Hominem argument is most  destructive when we apply it to ourselves. So  often we want to make a statement of faith, a  statement of morality, but we feel that we are  just not good enough to speak out. For example, someone who was raised in my generation might say, “How can I tell my children or  my grandchildren not to smoke and take drugs  when I sacrificed years of my youth to the  wacky weed?” Or, “How can I emphasise to the  kids the importance of receiving communion  weekly when I was away from the Church during my college days?” or “How can I protest  against immorality when I have been far from  saintly myself?” These are Ad Hominem arguments that we are using against ourselves. If  we follow this line of thought we would never  stand up for the truth.

Let’s go back to Saint Paul. He was certainly  aware of his own personal failings. He speaks  about a thorn in the flesh. What was this? A sin  he had trouble avoiding. Was his temper getting the best of him? Should he stop preaching  Jesus Christ because he recognised this thorn?  No, the message was more important than the  person. He might be weak, but the message, the  Gospel, is strong. What Paul writes at the end of  today’s second reading can be paraphrased as:  Maybe this is all for the better. It is not me but  the message that is important. I am weak, but  Christ is strong. In fact, I am happy to be weak  if that focuses my attention on true strength, the  power of the Lord. 

And that is what we need to realise, all of us.  We all know our own personal failings and sinfulness. But we want God in our lives. We want  His Kingdom of Peace and Justice to come. We  need to realise that God will speak through us  despite our own foibles.

Sometimes when I recite the penitential rite  at the beginning of Mass, I use the expression,  “Yours is the truth that gives meaning to the  very concept of truth.” The truth of the Lord  comes from Him, not from the one who mouths  it. We err horribly when we focus in on the  individual proclaiming truth, even if this individual is ourselves.

The power of God is upon us. His presence  is among us. His truth is in our hearts and on  our lips. We need to be less demanding of others and of ourselves. We pray today that we do  not let our own humanity or that of anyone else  keep us from hearing, proclaiming and living  in the Truth of the Lord. — By Msgr Joseph A  Pellegrino

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