Saturday, July 7, 2012

Homily for 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
14th Sunday
of Ordinary Time
Mark 6: 1-6
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.
July 8, 2012

(Note: As many lay people as brothers participate in the Saturday evening vigil Mass.)

“Jesus came to his native place” (Mark 6: 1).

The last place where many Salesians want to preach is in their own communities.  How much easier to talk to the kids, go out to a parish, even go to another religious community.  At home they’ve heard it all before.  Worse, they know us well.  Worst, we have to live with these guys, so we have to be wary of what we say and how we say it.

So we can identify a little bit with Jesus.  He’s been preaching and healing around the Sea of Galilee from a base in Capernaum, where he’s made his home (Mark 2:1).  Maybe he was practicing his carpenter’s trade.  It seems that it was in Capernaum that he raised the daughter of Jairus and healed the woman with hemorrhagic bleeding, our double gospel story last week (in the long form, Mark 5:21-43).  Now Mark takes us with Jesus on a trip back to Nazareth, about 20 miles inland from Capernaum and up into the hills.

Jesus grew up there, and according to Luke his mother lived there before his birth.  She and cousins (his “brothers and sisters”) still lived there.  Maybe he made trips like this periodically.  But now he’s become famous.

Jesus reading in the synagog.
Artist unknown; perhaps Tissot?
So someone invites the famous hometown boy to give the Sabbath sermon.  Mark offers no clues about the Scripture passage he used or about what he said.  Matthew’s account (13:54-48) is similar with a few details altered.  Luke’s version (4:16-30) is dramatically different; it may even be a conflation of 2 different episodes.  It ends not merely with the people’s rejection of Jesus, as in Mark, but with their intent to do him violence.

Why the negative reaction?  If he preached repentance, his theme from the beginning of his public ministry (Mark 1:14-15), they may have been offended.  That could be why they’d exclaim, “Where did this man get all this?  What kind of wisdom’s been given to him?” (6:2).  Some could have been resentful or jealous that he’d gotten away from their little town and become successful elsewhere.  A lot of small-town folk, in literature at least, take it hard when someone tries to open them up to a broader world; recall what many of the people in River City think of and gossip about Marian the librarian in The Music Man.  What?  We’re not good enuf for you?  The way we live and talk and make a living and entertain ourselves doesn’t suit you?

They note that Jesus is a carpenter, and perhaps this serves as a contrast with the “mighty deeds wrought by his hands” (6:3).  Carpenters—the term could mean anything from a craftsman who made tables and chairs and handles for axes and mattocks, who shaped door lintels and yokes for farm animals, who repaired carts, to a large-scale builder—framers and contractors in modern lingo; these all work with their hands, of course.  But Jesus’ hands are doing something else now; however “mighty” that is, it isn’t what Nazarenes are used to, and it’s not like he was trained in medicine.  Maybe they see here not something to marvel at, to praise God for, but something unbecoming, like Jesus has risen above his station in life.  The question sounds a little like, “Who does he think he is?”  “And they took offense at him” (6:3), apparently from his identity as well as his preaching.

It’s highly unusual that they refer to him as “the son of Mary” (6:3).  In Jewish custom a man was ordinarily referred to by his father, as we see in so many personal names in the OT and in the NT genealogies.  This is the only time that Jesus is called Mary’s son.  Otherwise, he’s “the carpenter’s son” (Matt 13:55) or “Joseph’s son” (John 1:45).  Possibly Joseph had died so long ago that people had become accustomed to associating him with Mary.  Perhaps Mark wants to stress that God is Jesus’ true Father—a point he makes in the very 1st verse of his Gospel:  “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” and which he makes again at the Gospel’s climax, when the centurion on Calvary exclaims, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!” (15:39).

Jesus doesn’t seem to be surprised by the reception he meets:  “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house” (6:4).  This isn’t Mark’s only hint that Jesus’ kin are skeptical about his mission and his person.  When he’s preaching to such large crowds on so many occasions that “it was impossible for them even to eat,” “his relatives…set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He’s out of his mind’” (3:20-21)—he’s crazy!  Not exactly adulation!

There’s a deeper meaning here, however.  Jesus’ kin and his house aren’t just “James and Joses and Judas and Simon” and “his sisters.”  They’re not just the several thousand inhabitants of Nazareth.  And Jesus’ patria (it’s the same word in both Mark’s Greek and Jerome’s Latin), “native place” in our translation or his “country” in other translations, isn’t only Nazareth.  It’s Israel as a whole.  Recall the verse in the prolog of John’s Gospel:  “He came to his own”—his own home, his own country—“and his own people received him not” (1:11).  Most of Israel, God’s own people, doesn’t honor the prophet sent among them, this Son of God.  They’re not impressed by his verbal “wisdom” nor by his “mighty deeds,” and they take such offense at him that they hand him over to the Romans for crucifixion.  After the resurrection, they persecute his apostles and the other disciples.

The upshot is that “he was not able to perform any mighty deed there” (6:5) because they weren’t receptive.  “Their lack of faith” (6:6) stands in contrast to what Jesus has met almost everywhere else, e.g. in last week’s gospel.  However imperfect that faith may be—it’s based, according to Mark, mostly on people’s being amazed at what Jesus says and does (in today’s gospel, “many who heard him were astonished” (6:2), on what Jesus may be able to do for them here and now, and not on a religious faith, a conversion experience, a submission of oneself totally to God—it’s still a faith of some kind. And the Nazarenes don’t have even that.  Whereas bystanders are usually amazed at Jesus’ words and deeds, here he’s the one struck with amazement (6:6)—at their lack of faith.

How do we see Jesus?  Is he a kindly teacher, the wise man of the Deists, the Unitarians, and modern secularists?  Is he our master, teacher, companion on life’s journey?  Is he the Son of God, our savior, the way, truth, and life? 

What kind of faith do we have in him?  Is he someone we pray to when we need something?  Someone who forgives us when we’ve done something wrong?  Someone on whom to model our lives?  Someone who leads us to and unites us with, his Father?

How do we react to him?  Does his teaching disturb us?  Do we find it “nice” or “attractive” but not very practical?  Does Jesus induce us to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel” (Ash Wednesday; cf. Mark 1:15)?  Do we honor his prophetic words on weekdays as well as on Saturday evening, make him as welcome in our own homes as in church?

In short:  We are Jesus’ own people, his brothers and sisters by Baptism, his own flesh and blood thru the Eucharist.  What reception do we give him and his teaching?

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