Nazareth or Milky Way?
I found myself struggling with today’s gospel—or rather, struggling with what I was going to say about it. Obviously, that’s quite different from really letting the Word inhabit you – but it’s a temptation for anyone who has to write words about the Word on a deadline!
Then, something came and gently brushed aside all the clever ideas and introductions that had been percolating in my brain. It’s just this: Jesus was a prophet. Like Ezekiel, he was sent on a mission that God himself said would be extremely difficult: bring Good News.
I hate to say it, but in the interests of full disclosure, I will: I am—and I’m guessing that we are—often quite suspicious of “good news.” Bad news, we accept. It’s all over the place, and it makes a kind of rotten, wearisome sense. But good news? Good for whom? And, what’s the catch?
With an attitude like that, it’s easy to identify with Jesus’ neighbors in Nazareth. They’d known him since he was a kid, watched him learn how to swing a hammer and use a saw, knew that he’d left home not too long ago. Now he comes back to town with a string of fishy-looking strangers in tow and begins to “teach” in the synagogue. They’ve heard about his “mighty deeds,” heard about the “wisdom,” too, but find it all very tough to swallow.
Like their ancestors, who’d rejected Ezekiel and all the other prophets, they refuse to listen. Funny that they don’t seem to realize that by objecting to Jesus on the grounds that he is just one of them, they’re also putting themselves down. But perhaps that would make sense to them, too. After all, “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Maybe they feel the same way. Good news? Maybe for some other people, some other town, some other time.
Jesus is defeated in his home place, and can only cure a few sick people, says Mark, “because of their lack of faith.” Lack of faith in him and his mission. Lack of faith in that “goodness” he wants to share with them. But, I’d suggest, they’re suffering too, from their lack of faith in themselves and the mission that their God has given to them. His chosen people, and yet they close their hearts and minds to this mission. Priding themselves on knowing what’s what, or, as we often like to say nowadays, “telling it like it is,” they deny their sacred calling to be hearers (and doers) of the Word through the prophets. Instead they embrace the kind of cynical skepticism that all too often passes for wisdom, whether in their world or ours. I’m sorry to say at this point that that state of affairs probably describes me too much of the time. I’m guessing that it might be about the same for you. Not all the time, but enough of the time to make us uncomfortable. Of course, it’s hard to think of ourselves as playing a part in the prophetic mission of Jesus, but unlike the people of Nazareth, we’ve been baptized. And that means that we shouldn’t sell ourselves short. But we do.
So, that said, we could end there, ruefully shaking our heads, chalking it up to original sin, and moving on. But St Paul uses paradox to offer us hope in the face of all that sin and weakness. He tells us that after he’d prayed to the Lord to have that famous “thorn in the flesh” removed, he got this answer:
[H]e 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.
His weaknesses are the entry points for “the power of Christ to dwell with me [him].” It’s as if he (and I – and you, too) were all wearing space suits, all completely self-contained, floating around out in the Milky Way, not needing anything or anyone. But wait, there’s a tiny hole in your suit! Normally, if that should occur in space, you die. But in this case, in this Christly universe, you live. And it’s the hole, the weakness, which makes all that possible.
Weakness and sin do not have the last word. The Word himself, the Risen Christ, can and will break through them, transforming them into something new and redeemed. To my way of thinking, that is good news. In fact, it is the Good News. I pray for the humility to believe it today and every day. Amen.
—Sr. Nuala Cotter, RA, Provincial of the U.S. Province