Sunday, July 5, 2009

Homily for 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
14th Sunday of Ordinary TimeYear B
July 5, 2009

Mark 6: 1-6
OL of the Wayside, Millwood, N.Y.
St. Michael, Greenwich, Conn.
St. Timothy, Banksville, Conn.

“They took offense at him” (Mark 6: 3).

The prophet Ezekiel speaks in the 1st reading of Israel’s reluctance to listen to the prophets whom God sends to them; of Israel’s rebelliousness against the Lord, even (Ezek 2:2-5). That reluctance, that rebelliousness, is exemplified in the treatment Jesus receives in his own home town.

When Jesus returns to Nazareth on this occasion, he’s already been preaching to large crowds in the towns by the Sea of Galilee, and curing the sick. Last week we heard how he even revived a girl who had died (5:35-43).

We don’t expect that the Nazarenes would give him a ticker tape parade when he comes home—no ticker tape, no limos, probably not much of a Main St., you know! But we hardly expect them to reject him.

We have a saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Maybe it originated in this episode in the life of our Savior. The people of Nazareth have known Jesus for some 30 years. They know his family well: his mother, his kin. In all the years that he lived among them, he never gave any indication that he was special, and he never showed them any special favors. So “where did this man get all this” power to heal, all this wisdom that has crowds following him like a pop star (6:2)? Why is he showing the rest of the world all this after he moved away from our town? Aren’t we good enuf for him?

It’s a truism that very often we take for granted the people around us, the people closest to us, like our families, our co-workers, and never really see how gifted they are, how good they are. Maybe we never thank them or let them know we appreciate them, or don’t do it often enuf. Our own children or parents or siblings or colleagues may be the unrecognized prophets among us, in one sense.

But more is at work in this gospel story of Jesus’ return to Nazareth. Here, as elsewhere thruout his public ministry, people display almost a willful obstinacy in refusing to recognize the power of God at work among them. Some people tell Jesus to leave when they witness his good deeds—he disturbs them, he’s scary, because he upsets the ruts of moral indifference into which their lives have settled. As you know well, some people are openly hostile to him because he’s a threat to their influence and authority; these are the men who eventually have him put to death.

Some are interested in him only as long as he can entertain them with signs and wonders or do something for them; they ask him to perform miracles for them so they might believe in him, as if he hasn’t been doing wondrous things left and right. Those of you who’ve seen Jesus Christ Superstar remember the scene when Jesus is brought before King Herod. Herod wants Jesus to do something spectacular for his entertainment: “Prove to me you’re no fool—walk across my swimming pool. Prove to me you’re divine—change my water into wine.” But these people aren’t interested in changing their own lives.

Jesus is constantly amazed by the lack of faith that he meets in Nazareth (6:6) and everywhere he goes. Even the apostles have to struggle with this: they’re constantly bickering among themselves about who’s the most important among them (cf. Mark 9:33-34), jockeying for positions of power when Jesus will become the ruler of Israel (cf. Mark 10:35-37), very slow to believe that to follow Jesus is to carry his cross on the way toward eternal life (Mark 8:34-35). They don’t want to hear Jesus when he tells them that the greatest among them is the one who serves the rest (Mark 9:35; 10:43).

We like to think that we’re different from the people who met Jesus, heard his teaching, saw his miracles, but didn’t truly become his followers. We like to think that we really believe.

But do we really believe? Are we really different?

When Jesus speaks to us today, he doesn’t come literally into our churches, the way he went into the synagog at Nazareth (cf. 6:2). He speaks to us thru his word, the Scriptures—here in the Lectionary and in our Bibles at home—the Scriptures that the Church has preserved, handed down, and proclaims. Sometimes his word in the Scriptures is very hard, like when he calls us to forgive those who offend us, to love our enemies, to practice chastity in our thoughts and our actions.

Jesus speaks to us today thru his Church. The Church doesn’t just repeat the words of the Scriptures verbatim but also tries to apply those words to our 21st-century lives. When our local bishop [Bp. Lori/Abp. Dolan] teaches, Jesus is teaching. When St. Peter’s successor, the Holy Father, teaches, Jesus is teaching. When the bishops all together teach, as they did at the 2d Vatican Council, Jesus is teaching. No doubt you know Catholics whose reaction to the teachings of the Vatican Council or of the Pope is indifferent at best: “Where did these guys get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given to them?” (cf. 6:2) Aren’t our bishops just a bunch of celibate old men who don’t know anything about real life?

That was pretty much how the Nazarenes saw Jesus—as nobody special, no one who had any claim on wisdom or insight to be teaching them or pointing them toward a closer relationship with God. “So he wasn’t able to perform any mighty deed there” (6:5), a deed that would make God present to them. He wasn’t able to open them to God, to help them make God part of their lives.

And that’s the issue for all of us. God wants to be part of our lives. But that’s only possible on his terms, terms that come to us or are made known to us when we listen to what he has to say, thru prayerful reflection on his word in the Scriptures and in the ongoing teachings of the Holy Father and of our bishops—even if that word isn’t exactly what we’d like to hear, e.g., about what is morally right or wrong on life and death issues, on sexual matters, on issues of social justice, on the sacramental life of Christians.

If God is part of our lives, our lives are changed. When God is part of our lives, we do better are practicing patience, kindness, purity, generosity, forgiveness, humility, Christian courage, and so forth. Such practices are “mighty deeds,” evidence of Christ’s power at work in the world, making the world of our families, our workplace, our parish, our community a little bit better.

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