Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 8, 2018)
Have you had the experience of losing your glasses and looking everywhere and then finding them on your head or around your neck? Or, think you lost something and find it just about where you first thought you lost it? Humbling!
Jesus, after a successful road trip, was in Nazareth, preaching in his home synagogue before those who knew him best. Luke tells us that what Jesus reads to them was a messianic prophecy from Isaiah. He finished and said. ‘This scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Mark omits this provocative line from his gospel. We may be tempted to look down on Jesus’ critics, but we can’t be too hard on the folks of Nazareth. We may be more like them than not. You might think this would be his most sympathetic audience, but the crowd dismissed him.
I can think of three possible forces at play in Jesus’ experience of being written off from which we may learn. First, the crowd thought they knew him. He was a carpenter - just “one of the home townies.” Oldsters thought of him as the kid around the corner, Joseph and Mary’s son. Dismissal of messenger and message happened to Ezekiel and Paul of Tarsus in today’s other two readings
A second possibility for not hearing is that any part of Jesus’ message that threatens one’s self-interest can be dismissed as “too controversial” or “too political.” Folks prefer the comfortable status quo. That is “being reasonable.” We tend to think we already “have it right.” Rocking the boat is often not accepted as good news. Jesus was drastically closing the gap between God and themselves. If he were right, the great act of god --to save, to punish -- was not all behind them as great stories to be told at Passover at the Seder. If he were right, this young man was saying that god was not only among them, but he was also calling them to make major changes in their lives.
Third, there is a tendency to elevate the importance of the new. This is why consultants arrive from the airport or the long drive, carrying laptops and PowerPoint presentations, bringing wisdom and insight. Organizations pay big bucks to hear them, but the reason we value this imported wisdom may be because the consultant is from out of town. If they live far away, their insight must be more valuable, more global. An irony is that when we go to their town, we are considered the “expert.”
It is a fact that what is close at hand is often missed. About the only way we wake up to value the ordinary blessings of our lives is to have them taken away, or to view them from a distance, or to have a visitor help us to see them again, as if for the first time.
Failing to see the extraordinary in the ordinary of our lives does have consequences. A troubling phrase of today’s gospel stands out because of their lack of faith; Jesus was “not able to perform any mighty deed there.” Jesus was “unable” because his infinite power was bound by the father’s gift of free will to the townsfolk and us. Jesus cannot mediate his father’s power without a faith response; there was little response in Nazareth. He could do only little. They do not even mention what he spoke in their synagogue; they dismiss his right to teach anything about god.
The people were “full of themselves.” There was no room in their minds for a new insight -- or any new revelation. And . . . “familiarity breeds contempt” as the saying goes.
Also, please notice their lack of belief amazed Jesus. Seldom is Jesus astonished, but when he is, it is about people’s faith. It is either extraordinary faith or it is the extraordinary lack of it.
A “few” listened. Those few save the world that refuses to listen to a prophet. Small groups listen and take up the prophet’s call and become prophetic themselves in word and deed. Some will stand against the power of fear and greed. Some will risk unpopularity and contempt, even imprisonment or death to be the voice of God in our time. They begin as rebels – even canon or civil law-breakers - and end as “founding fathers,” heroes, and, occasionally, martyrs for the cause.
Always looking forward to what is not yet, or getting stuck in what used to be, we can be crucified, like Jesus, between two thieves, the past and the future. It has been well said: “The past is history; the future is mystery --- we have only the gift of the now -- and that is why they call it “present.” Let’s recognize Jesus in the present and live our lives in the now, trying always to be open to the movement of the Spirit.
Starting with those closest to you -- let’s be present to them and present to the presence of God in our midst.