Gospel Reflection 08 Jul - SVD INM - India Mumbai Province

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Gospel Reflection 08 Jul

Fourteenth Sunday of Year B [Mk 6:1-6]

08 July 2018

The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth

Readings: (1) Ez 2:2-5 (2) 2 Cor 12:7-10

1. Theme in brief

Rejection of a prophet

2.  Focus Statement:   

Just as the OT prophets and Jesus (the greatest NT Prophet) were rejected by their own people, so also those who do prophetic mission today are resisted and rejected by their own people because of prejudices, over-familiarity and denouncement of evil by them.

3.  Explanation of the text

Today’s gospel text tells us that Jesus went from Capernaum to his hometown, Nazareth. It was not a private visit to his family – since his disciples were also with him – but was for teaching in the synagogue (6:1-2). The people in Nazareth recognised that he taught with a lot of wisdom and did mighty deeds (or deeds of power, that is, miracles). Thus indirectly they recognized him as the greatest Teacher and a mighty Healer.  But a question arose in their minds: From where did he get all this wisdom and power(6:2)?  Did it come from God or the devil? Of course, they could not believe that his power came from God or he was God’s messenger. Here we notice a striking contrast between Jesus’ astounding success inCapernaum and his total rejection in his own hometown.    
Why did the people of Nazareth reject Jesus? The first reason was their over-familiarity with him andprejudice against him. His human origins and lowly occupation became an obstacle for people of his hometown to believe in him. They were too familiar with his family (mother and cousins), educational and occupational background. Neither his family nor his carpenter’s (actually craftsman’s) occupation had a higher status in his society (6:3); nor did he have any formal education. Disregarding the normal custom of referring to persons under their father’s name, they referred to him as "son of Mary" instead of son of Joseph (6:3). Probably they wanted to hint at his origin as an illegitimate child without a father – a matter of great insult to him and his family. When we read other parts of Mark’s gospel, we find further reasons for their rejection of him. They might have thought he was 'crazy smart.' Mark says his family had gone to restrain him from his activities because people were saying he had "gone out of his mind" (Mk 3:21). The scribes said that he was casting out demons by the power of the ruler of demons called Belzebul (Mk 3:22). They might have been also jealous of him for his exceptional wisdom and power. They might have thought that God could not work in a special way through someone who had that kind of background.
Secondly, from Jesus’ own words we come to know that he was rejected by his own people for hisprophetic role, just like the prophets of OT were often rejected. The real identity of Jesus – who he is – is an important issue in Mark’s gospel. Today’s text tells us that he was a prophet who was rejected in his own hometown for these reasons, by his own kin and house (6:4), but was accepted by outsiders. That is why he said that prophets are honoured better outside their hometown, and the circle of their own family or kith and kin (6:4). The OT prophets’ role of announcing God’s word and denouncing the evil ways of the people (including those in power) was disturbing to Israelites, especially its leaders. So also was Jesus’ prophetic role. That is why they might have taken "offence" at him (6:3, literally, were "stumbled" or "scandalized" by him). In other words, his unconventional behaviour must have scandalized them so much that he became a stumbling block in their sight.
Thirdly, the  final reason of rejection was their unbelief or lack of faith in him (6:5-6). The fact that he could not do any ‘mighty deeds’ (miracles) there except curing a few sick people (6:5), does not mean that he had no power to do so. He could have done, but did not want to force his grace on those who were unwilling to believe in his divine power or trust him. He was amazed at their lack of faith (6:6) which was quite in contrast to his amazement at the deeper level of faith he found outside his town and family circle. Through him God was inviting the Nazarenes to experience his loving rule (that is, his Kingdom) of peace, liberation, brotherhood and justice. But their prejudice prevented them from accepting his invitation .

4.  Application to life                     

Today’s gospel is an example of prejudice of familiarity. We learn from it how narrow-mindedness, prejudice and over-familiarity can lead us to the rejection of God’s message coming to us from his prophets. The people of Nazareth, who knew Jesus well should have been the first to acclaim him, accepthim and follow him. Normally a town or a village celebrates with great joy and pride when one of their members does exceptionally well and brings them such a great honour. But unfortunately, what happened in the case of Jesus was just the opposite. Instead of becoming "owner’s pride and neighbour’s envy,"Jesus became "owner’s envy and neighbour’s pride." His own people despised him and refused to listen to him, but outsiders accepted and believed in him. His own people evaluated him by external factors: his occupation and family background, and not by what he says or what his stands for. They thought they knew everything about him; who he "really" was. But it was a superficial knowledge purely based on his humble background. They refused to believe that God was at work in him and was establishing his rule over those who responded to him. By rejecting him they rejected God’s Kingdom, that is, his offer of salvation.
We are familiar with this saying, "Familiarity breeds contempt." I would rather say that over-familiarity breeds a higher degree of contempt. When we do God’s work, speak for him and act on his behalf, we are often rejected by our own family members, friends and relatives, and in our own native place. Those who know us and our background too well often fail to believe, respect and accept us. Just like Jesus, sometimes this over-familiarity can become a stumbling block to our mission. It turns even the most towering and awe-inspiring personalities into very harmless and ordinary creatures in the eyes of prejudiced minds. When people become fixated to this over-familiarity, they refuse to accept and believe in anything good coming from the best leaders and teachers among them. They might scornfully ask: "Who does he think he is?" The worst form of rejection comes when our own family members or close relativesrebuff an offer of help extended to them just to show their displeasure against us. Like the people ofNazareth we erect boundaries to our love-relationships and post a notice: "Insiders are not acceptable." The question is whether we are willing to transcend these boundaries and accept the truth from whomever it comes.
What happened to Jesus happens to us even today. It is not uncommon to notice some good and committed leaders, preachers and social reformers becoming unacceptable to their own people and unsuccessful among them; but getting acceptance from outsiders or strangers. Familiarity not only breeds contempt but also generates envy. It is not totally unusual to find our worst critics or opponents among our own family members, relatives and neighbours. We too are often critical towards those who are close to us. In family, workplace, office, committees, staff and neighbourhood, over-familiarity often generates prejudices and jealousies towards those who perform better, are better committed and talented. Unfortunately, this weakness is commonly observed even among those who undergo long years of spiritual and religious formation/ training in the Church. When people become so hard-hearted that they do not take the best leaders and teachers in their midst seriously, they become fixated in their Christian life or commitment. There will not be anybody to challenge, admonish, correct and guide them. All will have a free hand to do what they want.
Let us take the second theme of today: a prophet’s rejection. Who were the prophets? Prophets in the OT were messengers of God who spoke on his behalf. They were his spokespersons who proclaimed his word to the contemporary situation. Broadly speaking they had two contrasting roles: (1) announcing God’s word, interpreting his will, predicting the future in terms of the present situation and instilling hope and consolation in people; and (2) denouncing personal and social evil, social injustice and ungodly ways of the world. For this second role of warning people of the danger of evil ways they were called the watchmenof Israel. The main reason for Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth (his hometown) and later on totally on the cross was precisely this prophetic role of denunciation of evil, injustice and hypocrisy. .
All of us are called to be prophets by our baptism and must speak for God even if people refuse to listen. When we were baptized the minister anoints our forehead with the oil of ‘chrism’ to denote ourconsecration as prophets, priests and kings after the model of Christ. We exercise our prophetic call at various levels: (1) at the personal level when we guide, correct and admonish people; (2) at the level of the Church when we encourage other members, instil hope in them, purify the Church and warn her erring members; (3) at the level of society we do it when we stand for God’s values, oppose social evils, encourage, comfort, warn and admonish its rulers and leaders. Parents, teachers and local leaders also are called to exercise this prophetic role towards their children, students and subjects. Just as the OT prophets and Jesus were rejected by their own people, so also today’s prophets are rejected because their message often disturbs people. Our prophetic role may meet with resistance and opposition by those who refuse to change their ways – often in our own families and neighbourhood. If Jesus’ teaching met withcontempt from his own people, why should we expect something different? In spite of facing rejection by our own people, today’s gospel invites us to remain faithful to our mission. To be faithful to our prophetic mission, we must learn to live with and deal with rejection, criticism, opposition and frustration.
There is a tendency in us to give up our good work and prophetic role of counselling, guiding and giving fraternal corrections to others due to discouragement caused by the rejection of our message by those to whom it is addressed. Normally we close our eyes at the faults and wrongdoings of those who are close to us in families and religious communities for fear of reaction from their side and losing our good relationship with them. The best ‘virtue’ we practice is called ‘the culture of silence.’ This fear slackens our commitment to God’s cause. Whether people listen or not, we have to proclaim God’s truth. Sometimes when we consider our own weakness or frailty, we think we are unworthy to correct others.  Some parents think: Who am I to tell children not to do a thing when I myself am doing it. Thus they fail in their God-given mission to proclaim his values to them. In that case, children get license to do the wrong things that parents do not have the guts to forbid. This sort of dilemma should motivate parents and leaders to change themselves first.
Taken in another sense, God continues to call us back to his path through his prophets. Parents, good friends, teachers, spouses, catechists, good leaders, priests and the religious are like prophets who often remind us to walk on God’s ways. They correct us and even warn us. We do not want to listen to them and reject them along with their message. Why? There could be several reasons: (1) We are prejudiced against them because of their profession, family background or past record. (2) We are so proud that we cannot see our faults and close our eyes on our faults/sins, that is, do not want to accept them. (3) We do not want to change, and want to maintain the status quo. (4) We are so greedy and pleasure-loving that we find it difficult to give up those immoral practices/ bad habits which are condemned by prophets like parents, teachers, pastors and other leaders.
Finally, miracles do not happen in the absence of faith. We are living in a Nazareth-like world, in a culture that is disinterested in Jesus’ gospel. Our teaching and preaching may change nothing in those who do not believe. Nobody can be healed if they do not want to. It is up to people to close their doors against Jesus or keep them open so that he can enter. What about us?

5.      Response to God's Word

Are there symptoms of narrow-mindedness, prejudice and jealousy in us that lead us to reject the good in our own people? Does over-familiarity with people close to us lead to their contempt? Are we willing to transcend the limitations of over-familiarity and accept the truth from whomever it comes? Do we remain faithful to our prophetic call and mission against all odds such as opposition, criticism, discouragement? Due to frustration and rejection do we give up this mission? Do we listen to prophets among us? If not, why not?

6.  A prayer

Jesus, you are the most amazing Prophet for all times. Continue to guide, encourage, comfort, warn and instil hope in us. Grant that we may be faithful to our baptismal call to be prophets who announce your word of comfort and denounce evil. Give us the strength to face criticism and rejection of a prophet. Amen.

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