A seventy-year-old widow had a serious heart attack. During her ordeal, she encountered the Lord who said to her: “You are not yet going to die.” She asked, “Lord, how many years more will I live?” The Lord answered, “Thirty years more.” Delighted by the news, she recovered rapidly. Thinking of the thirty years ahead of her, she decided to undergo a series of cosmetic surgeries – facelift, bust lift, Botox, liposuction and many others. A month after all these surgeries, she looked thirty years younger, and more beautiful. A week later, while crossing the street, a wayward truck hit her, and she died instantly. In the presence of God, she complained: “Lord, you said I will live for thirty years more. Why did I die so soon?” The Lord answered, “Oh, I thought it was somebody else. I did not recognize you!”
The first reading today is from the Prophet Ezekiel. God sends prophets to His people. We don’t always like to hear the words that a prophet speaks. On the other hand, not everyone who speaks is a prophet. The Old Testament and the New both understand clearly that a true prophet must speak according to the Word of God, and not according to the words of men.
Today many claim to be prophetic, but most lack any claims to speaking the Word of God. A true prophet in our Christian tradition must reflect both the Holy Scriptures and the Church. The Prophet Ezekiel clearly speaks the same message as the other prophets and that message is always the same: faithfulness to God’s word revealed in Holy Scripture, love for God, love for others, care for the needy and the oppressed.
This message of the Scriptures remains the same from the beginning to the end of the Scriptures. The message always demands that we give up our own concerns and be concerned only for God and God’s message for us. The moment we begin to seek our own good, our own enrichment, our own way of thinking—then we become unfaithful to the word of God.
The second reading today is from the Second Letter to the Corinthians. Here we also listen to God’s word: “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” We are invited to embrace the word of Jesus Christ with all our strength and all our being. When we do embrace this word of God, we shall surely suffer and know our own weaknesses. This also is a form of prophecy because the more we embrace Christ and follow His way, the more our lives speak about God and His incredible love for us. We prophesy simply by living.
The Gospel today is from Saint Mark and takes us back to the challenge of rejection. We should remember that Ezekiel told us that it does not matter if a prophet is recognized or not. What matters is that the prophet speaks the word of God. Today’s Gospel points out that we can reject a true prophet simply because we don’t believe that God acts in the ordinary events of our lives and in seemingly ordinary people. We don’t recognize the prophet.
The Gospel this Sunday is rather sad. We would understand if Jesus was not recognized by people from other towns. But not to be recognized and even rejected by his town mates in Nazareth is truly heartbreaking. That is why the Gospel said that Jesus could not work any miracle there, “apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.”
There are several reasons why the people of Nazareth did not recognize and accept Jesus. First, they were in error. They thought they knew what a Messiah should be. They rejected Jesus because he did not conform to their mistaken idea of a true messiah. They thought they knew Jesus: that he is the carpenter, the son of Mary, a simple and ordinary guy next door. They were very sure of this because they have known him since childhood. “They took offense at him.” This is the classic example of “Familiarity breeds contempt.” What they did not know was his divinity hidden behind his humanity. They were familiar with him, but it was only on the superficial level. As it is always said, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” It is always prone to errors, prejudices and misconceptions.
This also happens to us. Most of us were baptized since infancy. We are too familiar with the Mass, the rituals, the biblical readings, the homilies and the sacraments. And this familiarity breeds contempt. We see many Catholics who come to church on Sundays and even receive Holy Communion in short pants and tank tops. They talk to one another in church and they even use their cell phones during the celebration of Holy Mass. The Mass has, indeed, become too familiar to them. And sadly, though familiar, many of us are still ignorant of the basic doctrines of our faith. We do not have a basic understanding of the meaning of the celebrations, and we do not give serious attention to the Word of God. Most of us are already tired of the routine and ordinary things we see in Church. We long for something new, something exciting, but we have not yet exerted any effort to discover the dynamic beauty and boundless treasures behind those ordinary and simple things of our faith. For many of us, there is familiarity, but there is not yet the smallest amount of intimacy with Jesus and his Church. It becomes so easy, then, to reject Jesus in favor of something new and exciting.
Second, the people of Nazareth did not recognize and accept Jesus because “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” A prophet is the spokesman of God. He speaks what God wants to say to His people, whether they like the message or not. Jesus is the prophet par excellence. In the past God spoke through human instruments; but now God speaks through His own Son, Jesus. It is not surprising therefore, that he will be rejected, even by his own town people, because his message and teachings ran counter to their values and preconceived notions and ideas about God.
And again, this happens to many of us. We reject the messenger because we do not want to hear the message. A man addicted to smoking said, “I read in the newspaper that smoking is dangerous to my health. So now I stopped.” His friend was delighted and asked, “You stopped smoking?” “No,” he replied. “I stopped reading the newspaper.” As a priest, I have experienced many times the fury and indignation of some people because of some homilies they heard. The truth is some are upset because, they hear what Jesus said and what the Church teaches. The truth hurts. And that is why the messenger of the truth is usually rejected. All prophets in the Bible were killed, not by outsiders, but by their own people.
And finally, the people of Nazareth lacked the most important element to be able to accept Jesus: the gift of faith. The Gospel said: “He was amazed at their lack of faith.” If faith can move mountains, lack of faith builds mountains that block the hand of God. Nothing is impossible with Jesus. He has the power to do any miracle. But he just could not do any miracle in his hometown because of their lack of faith. He knew that in such a situation, disastrous things could result instead of spiritual benefits for the people. Working a miracle for people who have no faith will do more harm than good. As a quote says, “For those who do not have faith, no miracle is enough; for those who have faith, no miracle is necessary.”
Let us examine ourselves. Have we truly accepted Jesus as our Lord? The Lord invites us now, not just to be familiar with him, but more importantly, to be intimate with him, to enter into a personal relationship with him so that we will truly know and love him. Like Thomas the Apostle, may we be able to say with full conviction: “My Lord, and my God!” (John 20:28). And like Peter, may we say: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69).