Dear People of God, we hear so little about the Church’s God-given teaching role and authority – stemming from Jesus’ first public words, ‘Repent and believe’ -- and so much about encouraging and comforting suffering members of the Church, very many of whom are ‘suffering’ because things are not sufficiently adapted to their liking in Mother Church’s traditional inheritance, that it behoves us to take notice of the following excerpts from our first two readings today before going on to study today’s Gospel:
You shall say to them: ‘Thus says the Lord God!’ And whether they heed or resist – for they are a rebellious house – they shall know that a prophet has been among them.
The Lord said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in (your) weakness.’
In our Gospel reading we heard how Jesus went with His disciples to His home town of Nazareth and was amazed at the lack of faith He discovered there: His fellows in the synagogue – that is, the religious, the devout, citizens of Nazareth -- were unwilling to accept either His teaching -- which they understood well enough 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 unwillingness to seriously accept and appreciate Himself, His teaching and His miracles, before fully developing into a total rejection of Him, His words and works, was originally motivated by the simple fact that they thought they knew Him and His family; for He had not only been brought up in their midst, but had actually been taught in their synagogue. What would have become of Him if they had not been at hand to help and guide Him?
Why did Jesus find that amazing? After all, He had been living among these people from childhood and must have experienced many of their personal idiosyncrasies through daily contact with them; moreover, He most certainly was endowed with enough wisdom to have gained a truly profound appreciation of human nature in general. Nevertheless, we are told that He did, indeed, marvel at their unbelief; and time seems only to have deepened that amazement and sorrow, for you will remember that, later on, the experiences of His public ministry led Him to say:
When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8)
In the Gospels, we are told that Jesus only marvelled on two occasions: one, as you have just heard, at the unbelief of His home-townspeople; and secondly at the faith of the Roman centurion whose servant He 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. (Matthew 8:10)
This fact that Jesus is only said to have ‘been amazed’ or ‘marvelled’ on these two occasions involving faith or lack of it, seems to indicate that, of all human activities and attitudes, it is ‘faith’ which is the most personal, and also the most significant and ultimately wonderful act of which a human being is capable.
Why is faith so extraordinary? Because it is a personal G/gift from God the Father; because it is the G/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 in and behind those words and deeds could only be recognized and embraced by the humble and loving acceptance of the gift of faith from God’s Gift which is His own Most Holy Spirit:
I have given them the glory You gave Me, so that they may be one, as We are One. (John 17:22)
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 would find faith on earth when He returns, becomes, therefore, more understandable when we consider that faith is truly a most wonderful quality in a human being because it is totally supernatural – a gift, God-given, to raise a weak and sinful creature to the level of a child of God – and, being so sublime, faith can only be rightly received with a corresponding humility. Did not Our Blessed Lady herself declare:
My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour; for He has looked upon His servant in her lowliness?
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 have marvelled at that: after all, He knows our human weakness. We can see this, for example, when the disciples were in a storm on the Sea 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, was Jesus so amazed at the lack of faith of those who seemed religious and even devout in Nazareth; why, indeed, did He marvel their unbelief when He could be 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 majority of His life on earth in the home of Mary and Joseph where He had been seen to be daily “growing in favour with God and men”. You will remember that after having seriously prepared for His long-anticipated reception to manhood-before-God as a young Jew, He had been so fascinated with the subsequent opportunity to talk deeply with the rabbis in the Temple – men learned in the Scriptures and the things of God -- that He forgot all about returning home in the caravan with Mary and Joseph. And now here, as a fully mature man and an increasingly celebrated ‘rabbi’ back in His home-town synagogue at Nazareth, He likewise rejoiced that He might be able to speak again of the things of His Father with those in whose midst He had grown up, with those He so intimately knew and loved despite their faults and failings, with those who were members of God’s Chosen People to whom He had been sent:
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, indeed, amazed to discover how little reverence and love they had for His-and-their heavenly Father and how little they understood of the spiritual endowment they had received from Moses and the Prophets. He had spoken of what He had learned from His Father, their God; He had done the works His Father had given Him to do for their enlightenment; and, to the fact that they had both heard and seen what He had said and done, their very own words testified:
What wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands?
And yet, they did not respond to His Father, they would not recognize Himself!
We must appreciate that those synagogue members were not subject to a storm terrorizing their human weakness as Jesus’ disciples had recently been on the Sea of Galilee. Having heard His words and having either seen His miracles for themselves or heard of them from the accounts of friends and witnesses, they could not deny that Jesus did indeed speak with great wisdom and had, in fact, performed such works. Their great difficulty, however, was that they were in no way prepared to accept that one who had grown up apparently like any other child in their midst could be fundamentally any better than themselves. 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 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.
Jesus marvelled because they refused to marvel at God’s goodness shown to one they considered to be their own, like themselves. 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 -- and they could not accept God’s secret choice of one of their own, because He was – to all outward appearances – like them. They would not accept that He was, in fact, better than themselves before God. They would, indeed, accept one more learned than themselves ( some acknowledged and scholarly rabbi perhaps), one stronger (some revolutionary leader perhaps), but not one better than themselves before God: better in His knowledge of, response to, and love for the God Whom they had come to consider as theirs.
The fact is that they were no longer God’s People because they had come to consider Him as their god, just as the pagans all around each had their own god who was no true god. The denizens of Nazareth, having come to think that Israel’s ancient Lord was in fact their own Jewish god, found something deeply offensive in this Man before them demanding that Israel’s God be more truly reverenced and more seriously obeyed, demanding, more strongly than Moses and the Prophets had ever done before Him, that they truly REPENT and learn anew to LOVE the God Who had brought their fathers out of Egypt to this Promised Land. THIS was the stumbling block over which they fell and condemned themselves: Israel’s God was their god, and this ‘fellow’ had been taught at their synagogue, long before He became famous elsewhere.
St. Paul, on the contrary, told us how he had learnt ultimate humility from God and from his experience of human life and society:
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.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Faith, dear People of God, is the glory of a human being. It is a sublime gift of God, as the Gospel tells us, but it is something that can only be be received with humility; for, through faith, the very power of God is at our disposal and we must only use it for His glory, never for our own … most certainly not to make ourselves loved by parishioners, as some aspire to or teach today! Being born of humility, faith can only be cherished by the constant practice of simplicity and trust in God, for the worries and false solicitudes of the world would choke it, as Jesus lovingly warns us:
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 by the Father to be disciples of Jesus and witnesses to the world: avoid worries and solicitude which sap away the strength of your faith; above all, never indulge doubt which can destroy faith. Cardinal Newman used to say that a hundred difficulties do not make one doubt. Do you think, do you fear, that your faith is still weak? Then humble yourself gladly before God with St. Paul; and never forget what St. John would tell you also, namely, that you can grow in faith by the communion you have, daily, with God. Would you aspire, finally, to the crown of faith? Then give yourself in commitment, sincere and total, to God in prayer, to Jesus in the Eucharist, and to the Gospel proclaimed by Mother Church, in all life’s circumstances, big and small; such faith will earn you the eternal reward and crown implied in the words:
Go in peace, your faith has saved you.
Jesus was amazed and said to those following Him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.