5 Jul 2009
“When the Sabbath came, [Jesus] began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were astonished.” (Mark 6:2) In the name …
Fr. Randy Calvo
Isn’t it just my luck that on the one Sunday I come back to my home parish, the Gospel tells the story of the hostile reaction Jesus received when He came back to His hometown parish. I’ll bet Fr. Sen. Joe is having a bit of fun with that up in South Deerfield this morning. But going back to Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth, it all starts out well enough. It actually sounds like Jesus’ old neighbours are impressed by the local boy turned celebrity. “What kind of wisdom has been given to Him?” they chat among themselves, “What mighty deeds are wrought by His hands!” Then, unexpectedly, the story takes a different turn, and their resentment begins to seep-up to the surface. “But wait a minute, isn’t He the carpenter?” they gripe. It’s almost as if whatever Jesus had said and done that day in their synagogue had truly impressed them, but then as they moved away from that spontaneous reaction of amazement, they began to resent the fact that they were feeling this way about someone who used to be their unexceptional equal. The ordinariness they remembered of Jesus the carpenter would not allow them to see the extraordinariness of Jesus the Messiah. I think this is still one of the greatest ob-stacles there is to faith today, this willful blindness to God’s ordinary presence in the world and in us.
I don’t think it’s hard to understand where the feelings of Jesus’ old neighbours are coming from, and that’s what makes it timeless. Just imagine if I came back to St. Joe’s today and demanded, “None of you will leave Mass early for Dunkin Donuts coffee today!” What would go through your minds? Probably not stuff that I’d mention from a church pulpit that’s for sure. If that trivial story sounds plausible, then try to imagine how you would react if I came back and said something truly astonishing along the lines of what Jesus said to His old neighbours in Nazareth about being the Son of Man, the Messiah, the Saviour. In my old hometown church where I grew-up, how many of you would have thought to yourselves, “Oh, I’ve got a few stories I could tell about him before he put that collar on.”
We really can’t blame the people of Nazareth for reacting the way they did. We’re all guilty of their blindness, and today’s readings won’t let us escape that judgment by the claim that we’ve never laid eyes on Jesus. They’ll ask why we don’t see Him in things ordinary. Just as the people of Nazareth couldn’t see past the carpenter and recognize the Saviour, so we can fall into that same trap of looking past the ordinary presence of Jesus in our lives. Think about what St. Paul has to say to us today. He was blessed with visions and miracles galore. He was accustomed to witnessing the power of God. Then we hear of a debilitating physical ailment, one that Paul refers to as “a thorn in the flesh.” Scholars can’t be certain what the ailment was, but there are hints that it had something to do with his eyes. For Paul, Christianity’s most successful evangelist, not being able to see would have hindered his work for the church. He would have had trouble writing and traveling, the two things that Paul had to do in order to spread the gospel. Three times, says Paul, he asked God to heal him of this disease, and yet it persisted. He must have prayed that Jesus heal him so that he could continue working for the church. Finally, Christ revealed to Paul that he had to rely less on his own abilities and more on God’s. This, says Paul to us this morning, allowed the power of Christ to work through him. It was the ordinary rather than the miraculous where Christ was found. The physical ailment was still there and so was Jesus. Isn’t that the opposite of what we usually expect? Don’t we tend to see God only in the spectacular accounts of miracles and then wonder where He is when life remains ordinary?
Back up in South Deerfield this morning, to tie in with this message, the choir is singing the Prayer of St. Francis. I’m sure you’ve heard it before. It begins with the words: “Make me a channel of your peace.” It speaks of our being able to bring God into the world, of our bringing love to places filled with hatred, faith where there is doubt, and joy where there is sorrow. St. Francis prayed, and we join in that prayer when we sing the hymn, that Christ bless us as people of faith with the ability to give rather than to receive. This speaks of the sanctity of all the ordinary gifts that Christ brings into the world through our efforts. What we do as church, as Christians, becomes Christ the carpenter. How easy it is to look past all of this and miss Jesus. I was here a couple of months ago for Confirmation. Any of those young people should remember that the church speaks of sanctifying and actual grace. Sanctifying grace is the help and holiness of God in places we would expect like Mass and the sacraments, but actual grace is just as real, and it is the help and holiness offered by God to us when we actually do something decent and good and kind in the name of Christ. How ordinary that may seem, but it conveys the sacred grace of God nonetheless.
Gathered here in worship is Jesus even if it’s open to us every Sunday, but we have to look past the ordinary to see Him. And likewise, when you as church take the time to feed the hungry once a month, for example, Jesus is present, but we have to look past the ordinary to see Him in what we do. Since it’s Independence Day weekend, let me close with an example from 1776. In the Declaration, our country is entrusted to Divine Providence, but also to our mutual support for her and for each other. God, in other words, is invoked, directly and indirectly, through His presence and through what God will inspire in us. This is the powerful idea that we become co-workers with God. This again is Jesus the carpenter. This is why we have to pay close attention to why Mark takes the time to tell us of Jesus’ disappointing welcome in His old hometown. It’s not to ridicule a people from long ago; it’s to warn us that any of us could be seated in that synagogue at one time or another. May we then strive to see Jesus in all His ordinary glory for the carpenter and the Saviour are one in the same. For this we pray in His most holy of names. Amen. (+)