14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Gospel of Mark 6:1-6
Today’s Gospel immediately follows the events of last week’s Gospel. If you recall from last week Jesus healed the suffering woman and then raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead. With these two miracles demonstrating Jesus’s power over human suffering and death fresh in our memories we now travel with Jesus and his disciples to his home town.
We read that Jesus entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and began to teach to an audience that was very familiar to him. His audience consisted of friends and family who knew him, his history, and his role and function in their community. Like small towns, communities, and neighborhoods all across the globe, and throughout all of history, once a person has an established role or function in their community it is not easily changed, and this was also true for Jesus.
Several years ago, on a visit to my home town my parents shared with me a conversation they had with my junior high school librarian long after I had graduated high school and moved away. According to him, while outside working in his front yard, I had driven by his house, yelled his name out the window of my car, and then proceeded to give him the 1-finger salute.
I was absolutely horrified. I could not believe what they had told me. I thought for sure that the school librarian had made a mistake, confused me with somebody else. You must know that; 1) I had no recollection of this incident, and 2) this incident did not reflect my true feelings towards my junior high librarian. He was the man who introduced me to Walt Morey’s Gentle Ben, the only book I have read more than twice.
The saddest part of this story is that I have no way of setting the record straight. It is impossible for me to set right this perceived wrong. My junior high school librarian is no longer alive. As I am sure it is obvious to everyone here, I am still troubled by the fact that a man, whom I esteemed, went to his grave with a false perception of how I felt about him. In his eyes I will be always known as the teenager who gave him the 1 finger salute.
Hopefully, those of you who grew up in a small town, or just grew up for that matter, can identify with my frustration and sadness regarding his perception. It is one thing to be thought of poorly for the things that you actually do, and another thing entirely when you are thought of poorly for things that you didn’t do. Yet, the reality is that once a mind is “made up” or an opinion is formed they are almost impossible to change. This reality, though I believe He never gave anybody the 1 finger salute, is exactly what Jesus encountered that day in his home town, at his home church, in front of his home town people.
What we share in common with the people of Jesus’s home town is that we too have the ability to accept or reject Jesus. In addition, we, like them, often have misconceived constructs and beliefs regarding the reality of Jesus that oftentimes prevent us from truly seeing Jesus. The challenge presented to us today in this Gospel rings true just as clearly as it did some 2000 odd years ago. Jesus Christ is here in our midst. He is present in this Church, in his people, and most specifically in the Eucharist. My question for you today is… “Can you see him?” I mean “really” see him!
Do you see Jesus? Or, have you looked past him, through him, or around him? Have you allowed false teachings, made-up traditions, personal biases, and prejudices to close off your heart and mind to Jesus? Have you created a concept of Jesus that may not reflect his true person and purpose? Have you put limits and barriers on God’s love because they do not conform to your own self-serving expectations and ideals? Have you ever come away from the altar disappointed or discouraged because your felt like Jesus wasn’t there? The question you need to ask yourself is it because you are looking for Jesus NOT as he is, but rather as you want him to be?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “The desire for God is written in the human heart” and, as a result, humanity will find only in God the truth and happiness we desire. Simply stated, all of us, each and every one, are on a quest to find God. We are created by God in love, held in existence by his love, and will only be truly fulfilled when we acknowledge and accept his love. And yet, therein lies our problem, our willingness to acknowledge and accept God’s love.
God’s love for you, for me, and for the entire world cannot be lessened or diminished. However, God’s love can be rejected. St. Julian of Norwich, the 14th century theologian and anchoress, writes in her Divine Revelations, “Some of us believe that God is almighty, and can do everything; and that he is all wise, and may do everything; but that he is all love, and will do everything— there we draw back.”
On that day, when Jesus entered the synagogue in his home town, his audience was no less in need of his love and healing. There, among his family and friends, were those who were afflicted and suffering. Their lives were devoid of joy and peace and they were in desperate need of the divine gift of God’s love, Jesus. Yet, they doubted and rationalized their disbelief with questions of authority and lineage and ultimately rejected the very cure for their misery.
Do not be like them. Do not let your disbelief get in the way of God’s love. Challenge yourself to push against the self-created expectations, opinions, and beliefs created to isolate, protect, and ensure your status quo. Allow God’s love to collapse and crumble those walls and then experience the wonder of God’s all-encompassing love.
As you come before the altar of God today, come expecting to see Jesus. Expect him to transform you in, with, and through his love so that you can fully live… and let your heart be made complete.