14th Sun [B] 2009

Fr. Charles Irvin

Shortly after He began His public ministry, Jesus went back to His hometown of Nazareth. What happened there was very sad. All of the familiar things and people were there — but it was far from being a happy homecoming. They gave Him the cold shoulder and He ended up leaving Nazareth forever. As St. Luke gives the account, the people there in Nazareth froze Him out and then tried to throw Him over a cliff. Why?

The whole episode seems terribly strange to you and me. How could an entire town treat Him that way? They were not incredibly mean spirited. St. Mark didn’t give us this account in order to vilify the people of Nazareth. His reason for reporting this event was probably to show us that they were not so very different from you and me.
Here we find them standing face to face with God’s very Truth made flesh and blood for us. Here was God offering himself in His only-begotten Son to people just like us. They were amazed at His knowledge and His skillful teaching. But having heard what He had to say, the people of His own home town simply walked away and dismissed what He had to offer them because they disagreed with His message. He was telling them that God’s favor rested on people they despised, an idea they couldn’t stomach.
Isn’t that true with many of us, with so very many people we know? They and we have heard what Jesus has to say. We’ve listened to His parables and even admired them. Many join us for Christmas and Easter Masses and then disappear from our midst. We stand before God’s truth, we stand before God’s expression of himself in our own human terms, and we fail to comprehend His message. Are we that much different from the people of Nazareth there in Jesus’ own home town?
Why? Why does this happen?
Well, sometimes we deliberately avoid hearing and accepting the truth. Obviously what Jesus had to say back there in Nazareth made them uncomfortable. He threatened their comfort zones. They didn’t want to deal with what He was saying. Others, throughout the ages, have not only ignored the Teacher but went on to question and analyze Him. If they could induce doubt and raise troubling questions about Jesus they could thereby excuse themselves from being responsible for what He had to say.
Other people, when their assumptions are challenged, attempt to change the subject. Remember when Jesus confronted the Samaritan woman who had five husbands and was then simply living with a man? As soon as Jesus raised the topic she began talking about where the location of true worship was to be found. “Should we worship God here on His mountain, or in Jerusalem?” she asked. And as for the lawyer, when Jesus told him to love God and to love our neighbor as we love our selves, the lawyer responded by attempting to debate the question. “And just who is my neighbor?” he asked. Both the Samaritan woman and the lawyer resorted to avoidance techniques.
Evasion and avoidance have not been limited to the people of Jesus’ own hometown. When we have to come to terms Christ’s teachings about loving people who are unlovable, turning the other cheek, trusting in God, and forgiving others who have sinned against us, well … then we question the teacher. “Sure, that was easy for Jesus, wasn’t it? He never had a family to support. He never had to deal with a nagging wife and surly teenagers. He didn’t have to provide for a family in a dog-eat-dog business world.
Notice that these tactics do not flatly deny the validity of what Jesus was teaching. They simply evade, avoid and degrade them.
Another thing that plagued the people of Nazareth, and that plagues us along with them, is a “know it all” attitude. They knew Joseph. They knew Mary. They knew about His childhood and youth. They assumed they knew everything there was worth knowing about him. They had Him pegged. How sad they were so blindly self-deluded. How sad it is that many of us are no different from them.
Knowing the facts is not the same as knowing the truth. To be sure, facts are true. But truth is more than factual knowledge. If I know your gender, your racial and ethnic background, if I know your medical history, your social security number, date of birth, and your credit history, I haven’t even begun to know who you are.
What worries you? Are you concerned about the friends your son or daughter has? What makes you happy? To what is your life devoted? Do you believe in anyone or any thing? These sorts of things go beyond simple facts. They are not the sorts of things that concern “know-it-alls”.
In our schools we are taught to learn using the Scientific Method. Empirical knowledge, knowledge gained by that which is able to be objectively proven, is held up as the only valid sort of knowledge. But what about the sort of truth that we can learn about people … and about our selves? Using the Scientific Method cannot bring us that sort of truth. But that is what Jesus is talking about and teaching us. That sort of truth cannot be gained in a laboratory, or demonstrated in a court of law. That sort of truth can be only be tested in the laboratory of life, and put on trial in the way we live with others … and with God.
The only way we’ll ever know the validity of what Jesus taught is to live what He taught. If we fail to do that, if we avoid doing that or otherwise dismiss it, then we’ll miss the truth about who we are and what kind of a God God is. We’ll be no different from the people of Nazareth, the know-it-alls who wouldn’t listen, the people who lived in a town to which He never returned. Because of their lack of faith He could work no miracles there. And so Jesus left them there in their own smugness.
God offers. We respond. What will be our response?

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”