Homily 4th Sunday of ordinary Time
When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury.
They rose up, drove him out of the town…
One of the saddest incidences in the life of Jesus, is the incident in today’s Gospel, where Jesus is rejected by his own people, the people of his own village. The people of Nazareth are scandalized by Jesus’ claim that he, Jesus, a native son, fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah, which they obviously recognize as a Messianic prophecy. They seem shocked that this son of a local family dares to claim that he is the Messiah! They have heard of his miracles, and perhaps they have come to see him do something marvelous, something that would dazzle them, entertain them. But there is a world of difference between being a miracle worker and claiming to be the promised Messiah. In short, their minds and hearts are closed in advance to the truth, and thus they are unwilling even to consider the possibility that Jesus, the son of Mary and Joseph might actually be the Promised One.
So they murmur about his being the son of Joseph, which indicates that they do not believe he could possibly be the chosen of God – their skepticism echoes the words of Nathaniel who when Jesus calls him, replies to Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” or the denial of the Pharisees who say, ” Search and you will see that no prophet is to rise from Galilee.” So Jesus tries to warn them of the consequences of their skepticism and unbelief, that it will lead them ultimately to rejection by God. He reminds them that at times in the past Israel was bypassed by God who brought his mercy to certain pagans instead, and his words strike home. The people understand that he is suggesting that God may bypass them because of their unbelief in Jesus, and that God’s promises will be fulfilled for others but not for them, and they are stung to the heart. However they do not repent but become furious and his neighbors rise up and try to hurl him over a cliff.
How ironic, how sad the very people of his own village, his own neighbors who should have been the first beneficiaries of His mission actually are the first to want to kill Him. How sad that the role they play here is not to be the first to accept him, but to prefigure what will happen down the road in Jerusalem, when the representatives of his nation and the foreign occupiers will conspire to put Him to death. All this happens because they did not believe and were thus closed to His teaching and His mission of salvation.
The rejection of Jesus by his own people is a tragic example of the mystery of iniquity, and their rejection is a warning to us who have become his people, but who also stand in peril if we should end up rejecting Him the way his own neighbors did. Faith in Jesus is not a given for anyone. It was not to be assumed that because he was the life-long companion of his native villagers, who had to recognize his extraordinary goodness and holiness of life – or they would not have asked him to comment on the Scriptures in the first place – that they would readily believe in him. Nor is it to be assumed that because we have been life-long Christians that we are secure in our faith in Him.
We live in a time when many Christians have abandoned their faith, some quite openly, while many others seem quietly to have minimized their faith in Jesus, or in His Church, which is Jesus in another form, the form of his extended and Mystical Body. Jesus himself posed a troubling question just before his death: “But when the Son of Man comes again, will he find faith on the earth?” So faith is not a given, and any of us can fall away, and that is the issue in today’s Gospel, that our own privileged relation to Him as Christians, just like the people of Nazareth’s relationship to Jesus. is not a guarantee of our faith.
The Gospel also helps us understand part of the problem of faith and why people stop believing, or refuse belief in the first place. Jesus does make extraordinary claims, and heavy claims on us, that we must believe that he is the sole Promised One from God, indeed that he is the Son of God in the flesh. We cannot accept these claims without faith, a gift from God, but we cannot receive this gift, which God offers to all people, unless we have a certain openness to the truth as something which is not our own determination, but something we always receive from without. If we think the truth is something we determine, something that we create rather than something we receive, then we will not be “open” to the ultimate Truth, the truth that is found in the Person and Mission of Jesus Christ. He is God’s truth; we can believe in Him only with God’s gift of faith, and we can receive this gift of faith, only if we are open to the truth as something we must receive from God.
People reject Jesus because they are previously closed to truth, for whatever reason, and because Jesus says things they do not want to hear. If people are open to the truth, then they will at least listen to what Jesus has to teach them. But many people today are simply not open to truth, because their minds are mired in the skepticism and relativism of our culture. And so huge numbers of people refuse even to listen, even to consider what Jesus is saying, and they end up wanting to do away with Him and His Church which they see as intolerant because it asserts there is truth, and Jesus is the Truth.
Even many Catholics today do not want to hear Jesus speaking through his Church, at least when the Church teaches something that contradicts a doctrinal or moral matter they have already made up their mind about. They too have become the source of truth for themselves, and the culture we live in has more influence on their minds than either the Lord or His Church. When these skeptical Catholics do accept something the Church teaches, it is not from faith, but from the fact that the Church agrees with their own self-determined view of truth.
But when the Church teaches something they already disagree with along with the culture that shapes their minds, they often react with an anger toward the Church that reminds one of the anger of the people of his own village so long ago. They cannot literally do away with Jesus Himself, but they can put the Church our of their lives, which means they reject the Church’s Master as fully as those earlier men and women of Nazareth, and they will end up abandoning Him with all the finality that we see in the Gospel where they wanted to throw him over the cliff.
In sum, faith is not something we can ever take for granted. Faith is not accepting what Jesus teaches because it s agrees with our own view of reality and life. Rather faith is surrender to truth, to the Truth as it comes from God and not us, ultimately to the Truth that has quite literally come down from God and taken flesh in the Son of Mary, the son of Nazareth, who is quite literally God’s truth that has come to save us from our own truth. We must pray daily for our faith to be strengthened by God’s grace. Nothing is more important in this life, except Charity, and there is no real charity without faith, for as St. Paul teaches in today’s second reading, “charity rejoices in the Truth” and the Truth he always is speaking about is Jesus the Lord. May we always believe in Him as our Truth, and then we will rejoice forever in the Truth.