14th Sunday (B)

Jesus is amazed at the rejection in his own native place of Nazareth

One of the most painful realities in our life is to be rejected, ignored, falsely accused and misunderstood in return for the good things we have accomplished. The whole life of Jesus is seen doing good for others, but it is very unfortunate that he was alienated, unappreciated and ridiculed. They could not grasp or imagine that God could dwell among them, so they started questioning his credibility.

The faithless response to God began with the first couple. Eve disbelieved God and believed the serpent instead and ate the fruit of the tree, which was forbidden. Sin entered into the world and as a result of sin death instead of immortality and banishment from the Garden of Eden. Sin continued to grow so much that the world was full of wickedness. Only one family was good, Noah’s family, and they were saved from the flood. We see the pain the rejection of God’s word caused him; in Gen 6:6 we read, “God regretted having made man on the earth and his heart grieved.” It was like a new creation after the flood but once again sin began to increase and eventually people’s pride led to disaster, this time they were divided into different languages after the tower of Babel. Unfortunately this faithless response to God continues right through the Old Testament. The great event of the Exodus was a liberating experience, to reaffirm their faith as the people left Egypt on dry ground where the sea had been. But no, when the first trial came they complained and wanted to return to Egypt. Then when they entered Canaan, the Promised Land, after a while they began to ask for a king over them. It was a lack of trust in God’s leadership of them. Again this brought a punishment because with only a few exceptions most of the kings of Israel were not good leaders and their country sank lower all the time. God continually called prophets to speak his word to them but unfortunately only a handful listened to his prophets. It is no wonder that in the first reading today God called the Israelites a set of rebels (Ezek. 2:5). God punishes them for their sins and they were captured and taken as slaves to Babylon for about 50 years.

That rejection of God’s word continues into the New Testament. The birth of the long awaited Messiah in a stable, because there was no room for him. Joseph and Mary had to flee to Egypt in order to save the childe from the fury of insecure Herod. Jesus grew up in Nazareth and it was natural that he should visit his hometown, as a rabbi with a band of his disciples. On the Sabbath day, he went to the local synagogue and any distinguished person, who had a message to give, might be asked by the ruler of the synagogue to speak. Since Jesus’ fame as a preacher and miracle worker in other places of Galilee had reached Nazareth, he was invited to read from the Prophets and explain the text. During his “Inaugural Address” or “Mission Statement,” Jesus took upon himself the identity of a prophet, different from the image of a miracle worker that people wished to see.  At the end of the reading he said that this scripture passage has been fulfilled in your midst.

The first reaction of the people in the synagogue to Jesus’ words was one of astonishment. Luke says they were “amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” But Mark says that they asked one another: “Where did this man get all this? They knew him only as a carpenter from a poor family, with no formal training in Mosaic Law. Certainly, they thought he had gone far beyond what one of his status as a humble carpenter should go. Jesus’ neighbors did not expect him, “the carpenter’s son,” to be skilled in interpreting the Scriptures.  They also could not understand how a mere carpenter could be their political Messiah who would liberate them from Roman rule and reestablish the Davidic kingdom of power and glory. The local townsfolk also objected that Jesus had no distinguished lineage. He is identified as “the son of Mary” (v. 3) rather than the traditional “son of Joseph” (“Bar Joseph”) title. Such a reference could be seen as an insult because men in that culture were identified by who their fathers were (see John 1:45).Jesus was amazed at the lack of response and responded: “No prophet is accepted in his native place.” Those who accept the call of God and seek to follow Him may face indifference and hostility, contempt and scorn, weakness, hardship and persecution, insults and rejection.

Paul frankly admits the fact he had learned by trial and error, that he couldn’t preach the Gospel on the basis of his own strength and talent. Rather, the weaker he became, the more room he left for the Spirit of God to work through him. In the midst of a conflict with the Corinthian Christian community, Paul tells about two of his deepest spiritual experiences. In one he had an ecstatic theophany when he received an exceptional revelation. In the other, he fervently prayed to have the unidentified cause of great suffering removed but was given instead the reassurance that God’s grace would be sufficient for his every need. He understood that suffering, accepted as God’s gift, produces patience, sensitivity and compassion and a genuine appreciation of life’s blessings. Hence, Paul declares that the weaknesses, which continue to mark his life as an apostle, represent the effective working of the power of the crucified Christ in his ministry.  Paul was content with weaknesses and hardships for the sake of Christ; we, too, find God’s grace sufficient for our needs, for Christ’s power dwells in us in our weakness, and in weakness we are truly strong.