Sunday, July 05, 2009
Jesus' Rejection at Nazareth - Homily for the Fourteenth Week of Ordinary Time, Cycle B, Mark 6, 1-6
Above is a picture of modern day Nazareth.
Before Jesus was rejected by the people of his own home town of Nazareth he had worked a series of miracles: 1) over nature in stilling the sea 2) over evil spirits by exorcising demons 3) disease by curing a woman with a hemmorhage 4) over death by raising the daughter of Jairus. By doing so he clearly demonstrated his power as God.
Now Jesus returns to Nazareth and his fellow townspeople reject him. They were so familiar with him in his humanity that they couldn't conceive of his Divinity. They fail to perceive that Jesus is the Christ. He is Emmanuel - God with us, the fulfillment of the prophesy of Isaiah (Matthew 1, 23). He is the Divine Word who took flesh and dwelt among us (John 1,14). He is the Lamb of God, the one who was promised who would take away the sins of the world.
Jesus is more than a prophet, but part of his mission was prophetic. He proclaimed a message of moral reform, mercy and salvation. When we were baptized into Christ we were called to share in Christ's prophetic mission.
To be a prophet is difficult because the message of the Gospel is challenging and sometimes controversial, but it's a message that people need to hear whether they want to hear it or not. The prophet's message will always be countercultural. The spirit of the age is often at odds with the values of the Gospel. A minister once said "If you marry the spirit of the age, you'll be a widow in the next generation."
It is especially difficult to be a prophet in one's own hometown, in our family and among other people who know us well, yet that is what we're called to do. I don't consider myself a natural public speaker. I'm often nervous before I speak and I'm most anxious before people who know me well.
As I was discerning my call to the priesthood, I like many who eventually follow God's call resisted. I thought "No God. I'm not holy enough. I'm not eloquent enough. Send someone else." But God's call was persistent. I eventually came to believe that God could use me despite my weaknesses.
In our second reading from 2 Corinthians 12, we see St. Paul asking God to take away his weakness. But Paul comes to understand that God wants to use him, not despite his weakness, but BECAUSE of his weakness. Because of his weakness God's power can more clearly shine through him ithout being obscured by Paul's natural talents and gifts.
Another reason it is difficult to be a prophet is that noone wants to be seen as self-righteous. But the wisdom of the Gospel is not our own. We don't claim that it is the product of our own brilliant minds or vast life experience. We proclaim what we have received ourselves. Not to proclaim it would be unfaithful and ungrateful to God who revealed it to us. We need to pass on the heritage that has been passed down to us. Without a heritage, every generation has to start over.
It is difficult to be prophets because sometimes we fail to live up to the high standards of the Gospel. How many of us, for example, struggle with forgiving our enemies. But there are two ways to avoid hypocrisy. One is to lower your standards. The other is to change your behavior.
In January 2007, I preached in Juneau, Alaska. One afternoon I had lunch at the Red Dog Saloon. On the wall of the Saloon was a sign which read "If our food, drinks and service are not up to your standards, please lower your standards." Lowering our standards is not the right way to avoid hypocrisy. Instead, Jesus tells us "Repent and believe the Good News." (Mark 1, 15).
It is also difficult to be a prophet is because we're afraid of appearing to be judgmental. Anyone who wants to live an authentic Christian life will struggle against temptation and sin. We know we're not perfect people and so we must avoid casting moral judgments on persons, but we must clearly speak out against injustice. We must clearly speak up for what is right and denounce what is wrong.
This is especially so in our time when there are so many threats to human life from abortion, destructive embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, in vitro fertilization, and at the end of life physician assisted suicide and euthanasia which is really a perversion of mercy. Also related is the modern attack on chastity and God's plan for sex, marriage and family life through pornography, pre-marital sex, homosexual behavior, cohabitation, contraception and sterilization, adultery and divorce.
When a truth is denied or ignored the more people need to hear it. In our first reading from Ezekiel 2. God warns Ezekiel he is ending him to a rebellious people who probably who probably won't heed his message, nevertheless God sends him anyway an and tells him that whether they listen or not, they'll know a prophet has been among them. The prophet is not responsible for converting hardened hearts. That's the work of the Holy Spirit. The prophet's job is to be faithful in proclaiming the message God sends him to deliver.
Prophets are sometimes accused of being hateful. Again, we must always avoid judgments on persons. We must always be motivated by love and concern for a person's true welfare and salvation. We must never act out a sense of pride or superiority over others. We must always speak the truth in love, as Jesus did when he spoke to the woman who was caught in adultery. He didn't condemn her, neither did he condone her sin. Instead he said "Go and sin no more." (John 8, 11) He also spoke the truth in love to the Samaritan woman at the well as he called her to repentance. She had been married five times and was living with a man who was not her husband. (John 4, 18)
When Jesus was asked a controversial question about divorce and why Moses permitted it, Jesus responded that Moses permitted it because of the hardness of the people's hearts. He pointed to God's plan for marriage from the Book of Genesis. He pointed out that a man was called to leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two become one flesh. Therefore, he said "What God has joined, man must not divide." (Matthew 19,6)
Jesus didn't condemn the divorced, But taught clearly that divorce was not part of God's original plan. When we defend marriage as an institution between a man and a woman who are committed for life and open to the transmission of life is to hate noone. We must love and respect everyone. At the same time we must not condone immoral behavior and we must defend an institution that counless generations of people of many different faiths have seen as the best way for children to be raised with beneficial effects on society in general.
We realize that we live in a pluralistic society, but as the American Bishops say in their document Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics "Real pluralism depends on people of conviction struggling to advance their beliefs by every ethical and legal means at their disposal."
If we fail to share the prophetic message of the Gospel other louder voices will be happy to impose their godless vision of society on us.
It's not easy to prophetic. It never has and it never will be, but nevertheless that's what God calls us to be and he promises a prophet's reward for fidelity to our mission. On the other hand if we prefer not to rock the boat, as Aristotle says "To avoid criticism...say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing."