2 Corinthians 12:7-10
We have all doubtless heard the old saying that familiarity breeds contempt. Nowhere is this better Illustrated than in today’s Gospel. Jesus returns to Nazareth at this early point in his ministry already having a reputation as a miracle worker. Now there were quite a few people in ancient Palestine who had reputations as miracle workers, but only one of these people claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
The Galilee of the first century was filled with Jewish people who were expecting the Messiah with what can only be described as an apocalyptic fervor. This was a people who were very familiar with the Scriptures, especially the Psalms of David, because those would have been passed down as part of the oral tradition of the Hebrew people. Jesus would have been brought up knowing them by heart, but so would many of his friends and neighbors. These people knew to expect a Messiah, and they believed that one was coming.
Mark doesn’t go into much detail about what Jesus taught in the synagogue that day, but what he shares with us is the reaction of the people who were there. Luke, however, goes into much greater detail about what happened that day, there are some biblical Scholars who even believe that Christ may have made more than one visit to the synagogue at Nazareth and what we have in scripture is a compilation of those visits. We don’t really know, but we do know that however it happened, the result was the same. Luke tells us that Jesus read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, he has sent me to Proclaim Liberty to the captives and the recovering of sight to the blind, to set at Liberty those who are oppressed and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (cf. Luke 4:16-30)
The people who heard Jesus that day in Nazareth would have understood exactly what Jesus meant when he told them that “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In the first century this passage was viewed as a prophecy of the Messiah, so for anyone to make the claim that this passage was being “fulfilled in your hearing” meant that they were making the claim to be the Messiah that God had sent. Jesus revealed his Messianic identity to the people who were supposed to know him best. However, we see their reaction. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Isn’t he the carpenter? Where in the world does he get all this?” The Gospel tells us they took offense at him, St Luke goes so far as to tell us that they were going to throw him down the hill on which the city was built. In other words, they were so angry by what Jesus said that they were prepared to put him to death.
They wanted a Messiah, but the one who came to them and said “I’m the One” was right in front of their eyes for many years, and if the Scripture is to be believed, this was somebody who they would have least expected to have been the promised Saviour. (cf. Matthew 13:53-58)
Ezekiel tells us in the first reading that these people weren’t going to hear the truth. Although today’s Old Testament passage is an account of the calling of the Prophet Ezekiel, the words can just as equally be applied to what happened to Jesus. “Son of man I am sending you to the Israelites, Rebels who have rebelled against me, they and their ancestors have revolted to this very day.”
When the people of Nazareth looked at Jesus they didn’t see a wonder worker, let alone the Divine Son of God. They saw that carpenter that many of them grew up with, Joseph’s boy. This is one indication from Scripture that when Jesus was growing up, he likely lived a very ordinary existence for much of his life as a youth, because the reaction of his neighbors and friends-and in a village like Nazareth this would also have included many of his extended family-tells us that the last thing that they saw or were willing to see was the Messiah and Lord. He was before them all the time, and they never saw it. When he declared it, they didn’t believe him.
Do we take the Lord for granted, just like the people in Nazareth did? Do we see Christ in those around us, in the neglected, in the poor, in the immigrant, in the homebound, in the sick, in the dying, in the defenseless Unborn? Are we willing to look for Christ in those places, and among those people?
When we come at the weekend to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, do we simply treat Jesus as though he is entirely too familiar to us? Yes, coming to Holy Mass is a religious obligation, it is a Precept of the Church to come on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, and it is right and just that it should be. But do we treat Jesus as if we are only here because we have to be? Is the Eucharist a ho-hum affair for us? Is our relationship with Jesus just a little bit too familiar? Have we lost our awe and reverence for the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, God made Man?
Very often we make the mistake of placing Our Lord Jesus in a box of our own making. We often try to categorize Jesus according to the labels of this world. We somehow see conservative Jesus or liberal Jesus in the pages of Scripture, but of course often this indicates that those who engage in this kind of labeling of Our Lord don’t bother to read the Scriptures very closely. A very dear friend of mine who is personally inclined to libertarianism as a political philosophy spent a great deal of time during our college years trying to prove somehow within the pages of Scripture that Jesus is a libertarian. There is no conservative Jesus, and there is certainly no liberal Jesus or libertarian Jesus. There is simply Jesus the Christ who is the Second Person of the Trinity, who is God, and is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
When Jesus comes to us he comes to us in ways that the world would not expect, just as he came to the people of his own hometown and made himself known to them in a manner and a way that they did not expect or accept. Jesus comes to us in the Sacraments that we receive, most especially when we are open to the Graces that he gives to us through those Sacraments. If we look closely we can not only see Christ in our neighbor, but we can see Christ in his Bride the Church. For as much as the Church is filled with sinful people, and as we know she has even had sinful leaders over the centuries, and certainly in our own time, it is through the Church that Christ works to bring Salvation to the whole world. Not unlike the people of Nazareth, the world does not recognize Christ in the Church, but we should certainly be able to recognize Him. We should also be ready to do our part so that others can recognize Him in the Church-and in us.