14th. Sunday (Year B)
(Ezekiel 2:2-5; 2nd. Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6)
We have just heard how Jesus went with His disciples to His home town and was amazed at the lack of faith He discovered there: His townspeople were unwilling to accept either His teaching -- which they understood well enough as to recognize its wisdom -- or His miracles, which they had seen for themselves or concerning which they had received unimpeachable evidence from others who had been witnesses. And this rejection of Himself was motivated simply by the fact that they thought they knew Him, His family, and His origins.
Why did Jesus find that amazing … after all, He had been living among these people all His life; and He was, most certainly, wise enough to have come to a true appreciation of human nature in general?
Nevertheless, we are told that He did, indeed, marvel at their unbelief, and, moreover, time seems only to have deepened that amazement and sorrow, for, later on, the experiences of His public ministry led Him to say (Luke 18:8):
When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?
In the Gospels, we are told that Jesus marvelled on only two occasions: one, as you heard, at the unbelief of His home townspeople; and secondly at the faith of the Roman centurion whose servant Jesus cured:
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. (Matt. 8:10)
The fact that Jesus is only said to have ‘been amazed’ on these two occasions involving faith or lack of it, seems to indicate that it is ‘faith’ which is the most personal and decisive act and attitude of which a human being is capable.
Why is faith so extraordinary? Because it is a personal gift from God the Father; because it is the gift on which God’s plan for the redemption and exaltation of humankind depends. Human eyes might, indeed, have enabled men and women to see the wonders that Jesus did, and by their ears they could have heard the words of wisdom that came from His lips; but the transcendent reality at work behind those words and deeds could only be first of all intuited, then gradually appreciated and recognized before being finally embraced, by a humble and loving acceptance of and cooperation with God’s gift of faith:
I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me. (John 17: 6-9)
Jesus’ later questioning whether the Son of Man will find faith on earth when He returns, becomes, therefore, more understandable when we consider that faith is such a wonderfully decisive quality in a human being because it is supernatural both in its origin and its ultimate destiny, capable of raising a weak and sinful creature to the level of a child of God – and which, being so sublime, can only be rightly received with corresponding humility. Did not Our Blessed Lady herself proclaim:
My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour; for He has looked upon His servant in her lowliness? (Luke 1:46-48)
Now, where faith is weak, and when -- perhaps under extreme pressure -- it might seem non-existent, Jesus, indeed, is disappointed and hurt; but He is never said to marvel at that: after all, He knows our human weakness. We can see this, for example, when the disciples were in a storm on the lake of Galilee:
Peter walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, "Lord, save me!" And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:29-32)
Why, therefore, did Jesus marvel, why was He, indeed, so amazed, at the Nazarene’s lack of faith, their unbelief, when He was so understanding of native human weakness?
Here we encounter something of the mystery of Jesus, something of the wonder of His Person and the beauty of His character. He came from the Father and had lived the early years of his life on earth in the home of Mary and Joseph, so that, under their guidance and in response to His heavenly Father, He was seen to be constantly “growing in favour with God and men”. You will remember that when seriously preparing for the approaching stage of His Jewish adulthood He had been so fascinated with the opportunity to talk deeply with the Scribes in the Temple -- learned in the Scriptures and the things of God -- that He forgot all about returning home with His earthly parents, Mary and Joseph, in the caravan. And now, in His home synagogue at Nazareth, He was likewise rejoicing to speak again of the things of His heavenly Father with those in whose midst He had grown up, with those He intimately knew and specially loved, with those who were all members of God’s Chosen People and devout hearers of the Scriptures and followers of the Law:
It is written …, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. (John 6:45)
However, He was truly amazed to discover how little reverence for, and appreciation of, His heavenly Father they had. He had spoken to them of what He had learned from His Father, He had done the works His Father had given Him to do, and they had both heard and seen His words and His works as they themselves testified:
What wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands?
And yet they could not respond to His Father because they refused to recognize and acknowledge Himself!
The Nazarenes were not subject to a storm terrorizing their human weakness as were the disciples on the lake of Galilee; having heard His words, and either seen His miracles for themselves, or having heard of them from the accounts of friends and witnesses, it was impossible for them to deny that Jesus did speak such wisdom and had performed such works. Their great difficulty, however, was that they were in no way prepared to allow one who had grown up apparently like any other child in their midst to appear better than, or different from, themselves or their own. Failure through fear as experienced by His disciples during the storm on the Sea of Galilee was human; refusal from pride as shown by His townspeople here in Nazareth was devilish! Who, indeed, did He think He was?
Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honour except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house." So He was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying His hands on them. And He marvelled at their lack of faith.
He marvelled because they refused to marvel at God’s goodness to one they considered to be like themselves. Somehow, here in Nazareth, human kind had fallen so low as to despise itself. The Nazarenes were very proud -- you will remember how they had been willing to throw Jesus down from the hill their town was built on because they thought He had insulted them -- but they would not accept God’s secret choice of one of their own, because He was – to all outward appearances – no better than, just like, them. Thus they condemned themselves.
Here we touch upon a nerve situation for many sincerely pious people -- especially young priests -- who are truly seeking to serve God’s people and mother Church, Jesus their Saviour, and in all that, to glorify God. They can be downcast and secretly troubled on encountering people, such as those Jesus encountered at Nazareth, who -- for reasons of no greater importance than personal pride or popular appreciation – refuse or are reluctant to recognize or accept them. In such circumstances it is so easy and tempting for them to seek to make themselves first of all appreciated by men in order to serve God, even though thereby they start to divert somewhat, before finally departing totally, from their original simplicity and sincerity before God. Their words, gestures, and attitudes become designed to -- gradually at first -- conform to, before finally completely identifying with, the popular idea of Jesus; and thus they seek refuge in fulfilling people’s expectations, rather than peace in the trustful pursuit of God’s calling and obedient response to Mother Church’s teaching.
St. Paul now tells us how -- from his constant practice of prayer and his everyday experience of human life and society— he learnt to best serve God:
Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. I am content, then, with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Faith, as the Gospel tells us, is a sublime gift of God for the glory of a human being, and for that very reason it can only be accepted and embraced in a spirit of deep humility, for, through faith, the very power of God is at our disposal, for His glory alone, however, not for our own. And being conceived in humility, faith can only be nurtured and cherished by the constant practice of trust, for the worries and false solicitudes of the world would choke it, as Jesus lovingly warns:
Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith? And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. (Luke 12:27-33)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you who have all been personally chosen and called by the Father to become disciples of Jesus and His witnesses before the world: avoid worries and solicitude which sap away the strength of faith; above all, never indulge either doubt which destroys faith or yield to deceit which would disguise self-service as a response to God’s call. If you suspect, fear, your faith is too weak, then betake yourself with Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane; humble yourself, gladly, before God with St. Paul. Would you, however, aspire, to the crown of faith? Then cherish, nurture, protect your faith not yourself; seek to please God for Himself alone, ever serve men by helping them find their true selves in God.
In all things and at all times, give yourself in commitment, sincere and total, to God in prayer, to Jesus in the Eucharist, and to the Gospel proclaimed in Mother Church, and may those words of Jesus be your final benediction:
Go in peace, your faith has saved you.