Jesus left Nazareth when he was about 30 years old to start his ministry. He traveled around Galilee preaching the kingdom of God, healing the sick, and driving out demons. Soon, his name became known all over the region and even beyond as an extraordinary teacher and wonder-worker. People sought him from everywhere to listen to his word and be cured of their illnesses.
In today’s gospel, we see Jesus returning to Nazareth. One would expect a hero’s welcome from his townsfolk who could only be proud that one of their own has become famous and put their little town on the map. Instead, Jesus received a different reception.
At first, his townmates listened to him as he preached in their synagogue. They were astonished by his eloquence and the power of his word. Soon their astonishment turned into resentment. “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!” They could not accept that he could rise above them when they knew only too well where he came from. “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary… and are not his sisters here with us?” In the end, they took offense at him and rejected him.
The reaction of the people of Nazareth is all too familiar in any community. Pride and envy can easily blind us to the goodness and giftedness of those who at a certain point move ahead of us in a journey we started together. This is because we fail to understand the meaning of gifts, and claim them as something personal. Gifts are given by God to all of us in different measure and modes for the building of the Body of Christ. Gifts are meant for the mission.
Familiarity can also blind us to the deeper reality in each of us. “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” Because they limited the origin and identity of Jesus only to what was familiar to them, they failed to recognize in him the Son of God. How often we stop short at the familiar face of our neighbor and fail to see in him/her the image and child of God, a brother/sister in Christ!
As a result, familiarity deprives us of the joy of God’s presence. How we wish God would appear to us as he did with Abraham, Moses and the saints. Such apparitions, however, are not God’s usual way of revealing himself. God often visits to us in the ordinary: ordinary people and ordinary circumstances. Today’s gospel reveals the great mystery of incarnation in God taking on a human form and growing in an ordinary, unimportant out of the way town called Nazareth.
When we learn to recognize God more and more in the ordinary, the divine in the mundane, we become spiritually mature. The saints never stop wondering because they sense God’s mysterious presence all around them. Truly, “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
Our gospel story sorely ends with Jesus’ amazement at his own people’s lack of faith. He could only lament that “a prophet is not without honor except in his native place.”
Rejection is the lot of prophets. In the first reading, God himself warned Ezekiel, “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites… they and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day.”
By our baptism, we have been anointed prophets and made to share in Christ’s mission of proclaiming God’s word. We must therefore be also ready for rejection and persecution. After all, no disciple is greater than his master.
In the second reading, St. Paul mentions “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints” he had to endure for the sake of Christ and the gospel. He speaks of “a thorn in the flesh” given him to keep him from being proud. What this thorn was still remains a mystery to the reader. But his point is clear. Preaching is not an easy task and can be frustrating. All the same, the prophet is sent to proclaim God’s message “whether they heed or resist… so they shall know that a prophet has been among them.”
In the end, it is God’s word we proclaim; we are only his instruments. The result of our proclamation is entirely in his hands which we may not live to see and take credit of. What is clear is that God wants to assure his people through our presence and ministry, that there is a prophet among them. “God does not call us to be successful, but to be faithful.” (Mother Teresa)*