In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus returns to His home town, Nazareth. He begins to teach in the synagogue, and the people don’t know what to make of Him. They know His family. They know what He used to do before He began His public ministry and left home. So they are utterly amazed at who He is now. And Mark tells us, “And they took offense at him.”
Why would they do that? Perhaps it was because they thought they knew who He was, and where He came from (Some Scripture scholars say that people referring to Him as the “son of Mary” was an insult, since the custom of the time was to refer to someone as the son of his father. Could there still have been murmurs about Mary being pregnant before she lived with Joseph? You know how we human beings are). Have there been people in our lives about whom we made judgments a long time ago, and have decided that there is nothing that they could do or say to us that would have any value? It might have been that way with these people and the way they looked at Jesus.
The result of all this is that “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.” I’ve often have had trouble understanding this. I know that God has blessed me, even though I don’t deserve it. I also know people who don’t believe, but they have been blessed as well, so I don’t see a lack of faith as preventing Jesus from doing anything. An insight from a 12 – Step program might help: “Without God, I cannot. Without me God won’t.” God doesn’t force us to follow God’s will or to accept God’s love. And so maybe it was the case that people simply rejected the invitation to believe in who Jesus was and what He was willing to do. But the invitation is always there. God continually calls us closer to God’s self.
The challenge for us, I think, is to be open to God speaking to us. And that openness may involve listening to people who may make us uncomfortable. This is what prophets do. There are certainly times when God wants us to be uncomfortable with what is, and sends us prophets, even today. But then, we might ask, who are the prophets worth listening to? For me, my ideal would be that I am willing to listen to anyone, even those who do not share my view of things, or even if they are a “thorn in the flesh” (see our second reading from 2 Corinthians), but if the “prophet” is more interested in condemning the sinners rather than the sin, or disregards the dignity of others (it doesn’t matter why), then I am suspicious, to say the least, of what is being said.
Another challenge is to consider what we say or do in living out our faith. How do we present God’s word and God’s love to others? Is there a way to hold fast to the faith and refrain from condemnation at the same time? We can’t go wrong in remembering Jesus’ commandment to love, no matter what.
May we be prophetic, when called upon to do so, even in our “native place,” remembering to do it in the love of God in Jesus Christ.
Fr. Phil, CP