July 4, 2021
On each of my pilgrimages to the Holy Land, our group of pilgrims had the opportunity to visit Nazareth, the boyhood town of Jesus. Actually, it was also the home of Joseph, where we visited Joseph’s carpenter shop. It was likewise the home of the Blessed Virgin Mary, where we visited the Church of the Annunciation. There the Angel Gabriel announced the glad tidings that she would be the mother of the Messiah. Nazareth was also the place of the famous synagogue, which is referenced in this weekend’s Gospel passage, where Jesus worshipped, and grew up in the Jewish faith. Nazareth was the small town, rural, native place of Jesus.
I imagine that as Jesus grew up in that locale, he became well known by his neighbors, extended family, friends, and even the rabbis at the local synagogue. His family and boyhood identity was clear. His personality had been shaped by Mary and Joseph and by the environment in which he grew up. Indeed, from early on his eyes and his humanity were fixed on God, the Lord of glory. The Scriptures tell us in Matthew’s Gospel that he “grew in age and wisdom and the Spirit of the Lord was upon him.” Having left Nazareth, being baptized by John in the River Jordan, spending 40 days and nights in the desert where he was tempted by the Evil One, later traversing the Galilean countryside, beginning his preaching ministry, touching and healing people, he made his way back to Nazareth, his familiar native place.
His public identity was no longer that of the “boy from Nazareth.” He was now a young adult, tradition tells us 30 years old, when he was baptized and began his public ministry. ” This is my beloved Son, on whom my favor rests, listen to him,” said his Heavenly Father, as Jesus was sent forth on the mission for the redemption of the world. Indeed, Jesus’ eyes were fixed on his Heavenly Father, and on the mission at hand. As a young adult, Spirit-filled, and with the messianic mission in sight, his identity took on a purposeful plan, a confident abiding wisdom. His actions were marked by mighty deeds, some of which were memorably miraculous and life-transforming for those whom he touched. Their commentary about Jesus seemingly presented a “new man,” almost an unrecognizable man. Isn’t this Mary’s son? Isn’t Joseph his father? Are these his relatives? Those who knew him as a child, now began to experience him in the context of his adult, messianic, ministry. And it was a difficult pill to swallow!
Sadly, there are always those who prefer to presume the negative, who are dower and pessimistic, judgmental and hyper-critical. It’s often their way of confronting change and challenge. The Gospel this weekend gives us a hint of the emerging discomfort of the Nazarene people who are clearly situated in their own familiar comfort zone of knowledge and experience. Although they knew Jesus as a child, they struggled to grasp how even someone familiar could be a vehicle of wisdom, transformation, and love at a very high level. Their initial reactions were unfavorable, almost sounding unfriendly, oppositional, adverse, antagonistic, if not recalcitrant. Sorrowful, indeed, it was that this negativity brought such darkness on Nazareth that day. Jesus was forced to lament: “a prophet is never accepted in his native place.” His words and deeds were falling on deaf ears, as well as on hearts that were closed and non-receptive. Negativity and hardness of heart have a way of throwing ice even on goodness, even on grace; apparently, even on Jesus. Negativity and judgmentalism are always destructive.
In our modern world, where so much negativity and oppositional opinions seemingly create so much division and hostility among us, we would do well to recall the experience of Jesus at Nazareth. Because of their hardness of heart, he left them that day! Will the blessings of God, his providence, peace, and the gift of freedom leave us, because of the hardness of our hearts, because of our negativity, lack of openness, and dearth of civility toward fellow citizens? Lately, even those who have meaningful ideas are forced to express them with vitriol and heated confrontation. Let’s pray for the gifts of wisdom and discernment for our Church, our country, and for our world. Jesus: we’re lost without you!
Fr. Michael W. Davis – Pastor – St Gregory The Great Catholic Church
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