8 July 2018
2 Cor 12.7-10
Some time ago I visited an elderly woman named Joan whom I hadn’t seen for some time. I asked her how she was and she spoke about her health which wasn’t great. When I asked her about her family she told that one of her daughters has stopped speaking with her and wouldn’t even allow her own children to visit their grandmother. Joan said what was most painful was that she couldn’t recall a single reason for this rejection by her daughter. It happened suddenly. Recently she heard that one of her daughter’s sons was getting married and whilst all the other family members and relatives were invited to the wedding, Joan was not. She said she felt even more terribly rejected.
Isn’t it hurtful to be rejected by anyone? But it is particularly hurtful to be rejected by one’s own people. Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. He greatly desired to help his townspeople but he was unable to do so. You can’t help people against their will. He was saddened but not angered. Rejection can easily turn into anger and even bitterness.
Probably all of us have experienced a little of this. We have wanted to help someone but our help was refused. We feel frustrated and helpless. When we meet with rejection we may be tempted to say: ’that’s it. I’m finished’. We may decide not to help or care any more. It’s too painful.
Jesus didn’t react like this. He didn’t become embittered. He did what little he could in Nazareth – he cured some sick people. Then we are told that he was amazed at their lack of faith. So he decided to take his light and his gifts elsewhere.
After the three miracles Jesus worked before this gospel passage we now find him teaching in the synagogue and all there are astonished when they heard him. One would imagine then that it would have been the most obvious thing in the world for them to accept him as someone special sent by God. But the opposite was true. They refused to accept him just as they refused to listen to the prophet Ezekiel as we read in the first reading. In the Bible a prophet is someone who speaks in God’s name. Rarely does it mean someone who foretells the future.
Why would they have been so prejudiced against Jesus? One reason was that he was too human. They knew his mother Mary and relatives. We must be careful to understand what is meant by the fact that they knew the brothers and sisters of Jesus. Our European understanding of brother and sister is not the same as it was in the Holy Land, in the time of Jesus. In Africa a ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ can mean not just someone with the same father and mother but could equally mean a cousin, other relative or even someone from the same village or tribe.
For the Jews of his own town their main question was ‘how?’ How could he be from God? Jesus would have been too human, too weak for them. They were expecting a Messiah who would destroy the Roman colonial power. They hoped for someone more powerful or political.
Another reason could well have been that they did not believe that one of their own could reveal the demands of God’s love. Their image of God, like ours for so many years, was of a God who punished bad people and rewarded good. But Jesus revealed a totally loving, compassionate, forgiving God which was very different. Going to the synagogue or to church on Sundays makes demands on us but nothing like what God expects of us after we leave the church after Mass.
Religion is what we do after the sermon is over. They felt they knew him, therefore he could not tell them anything new.
Jesus, like Ezekiel, runs into the resistance of those who refuse to hear the word of God which invites them to leave their old security and change their ways. They felt secure in their image of God and the religious beliefs they were used to. This can be equally true for us. If any of us wants to take Jesus seriously then we will be challenged to let go of all that is not life-giving in our lives, of our false securities. He will invite us to repent of any unforgiving attitude in our hearts, any unjust business dealings, any relationships or behaviour which are contrary to the calling we have from God.
There are two themes in the readings today: rejection [Jesus and Ezekiel are both rejected] and the prophetic role of the Church.
All Christians are called to be prophets, to bear witness to Christ and his teaching through their entire lives. It is a high calling for all of us and not at all easy. Sadly in recent times there have been many scandals in the Church. In more recent times it is even worse with new scandals appearing. Like Ezekiel, Paul and Jesus will we have the courage to keep on witnessing to Jesus when people may even display contempt or outright rejection of us as Christians? People have used these scandals to leave the Church. Let us respect their decision. But for those of us who stay on, let us not focus only on the sinful aspects. Let us, as St. Paul says in the second reading, allow the grace and power of God to use our weakness as a Church to purify us all.
“Lord may we allow you to use your grace and power to work through our human weakness. Amen”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA