And he was amazed at their unbelief

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Gladys: Oh look who’s preaching today, Abner. It’s Jesus, back from his semester abroad, and he’s brought some of his friends again.

Abner: He’s probably going to show us all how something good can come out of Nazareth.

Gladys: Oh come on, he’s alright, and besides, what are you talking about? It’s not like he doesn’t have something to say. Haven’t you heard what he’s been doing?

Abner: No, Gladys. But I’m sure you will tell me.

Gladys: It’s impressive, and he has quite the following. Although, remember the last time when that crowd followed him here? His mother and brothers thought he had lost his mind. She worries. Who wouldn’t? Him, out and about all the time with those people. Still, he’s a good boy and a great preacher; some even say he’s a prophet. And, don’t forget all the people he has helped…those with unclean spirits, the sick and diseased, lepers, paralytics, even a man with a withered hand! Why, just last week…

Abner: Hmmm?

Gladys: Shhhh, he’s talking! I’ll tell you in a minute! Did you just hear what he just said? Seriously? How could Jesus have such wisdom?

Gladys: Okay, so apparently there was this woman, ostracized for twelve years, with the bleeding. She could barely leave her house! But when she found out Jesus was passing through her town she managed to work her way into the crowd and got close enough to touch his tunic! And she was healed! She thought he was upset with her for touching him, but he was not. He said her faith healed her, imagine that! Now she’s just going about her business like it’s, well, nobody’s business! Ha!

Abner: Oh Gladys!

Gladys: And that’s not all, Abner. On the same day Jesus raised a little twelve-year old girl from the dead.

Abner: Stop it.

Gladys: Abner, believe me. Say,…do you think the number twelve means something?

Abner : Nah, probably just a coincidence. But Gladys, something’s fishy here. Where would someone like Jesus get the powers to do such mighty acts? He’s just a kid from the neighborhood. No different from our kids.

Gladys: Yeah, now that you mention it. Why Jesus? What makes him so special? Didn’t all the boys go to the same Hebrew school? I’ll bet Mary got him a tutor. Who does he think he is? He’s just a manual laborer, a carpenter, isn’t that right? And his family, well, er…I don’t want to be unkind, but you know what they say about his birth. Let’s just say she’s ordinary, to be nice.

Abner: Yes, no different from us! Huh? Wait. What? Gladys, Stop poking me!

Gladys: Abner! Did he just call himself a prophet?

Gladys: You know what? I’m done listening to this. I know what everyone says he has done, and that he’s so special, but I’m not buying it. Who can believe this? Plus his message is over the top.

Abner: Yeah, me too, let’s go!

Gladys: See? Now he can’t do anything. Wasn’t I right? I’m going home.

“And he was amazed at their unbelief.” MK 6:6

Today’s readings can be found here.

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The rejection of Jesus progresses from members of his family, who thought he was out of his mind [MK 3:21, 31-5], to his townsfolk, whose initial amazement was quickly replaced with skepticism and culminates with being rejected by members of his Synagogue [MK 6:1-6]. (It’s worth noting that after this incident in Mark’s gospel Jesus is not found teaching in the Synagogue again.) In response to the skepticism shown by his old neighbors, Jesus comments, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”

Jesus’ former neighbors thought they knew all they needed to know about him, and they didn’t like what they heard.

Maybe they felt defensive, even slightly insulted that Jesus had moved on while they remained trapped in Nazareth. Perhaps the idea of giving up a “normal” life for one of service to others was as suspect then as it is today. It’s conceivable that their offense came when Jesus’ radical practice of the greatest commandment, to love God and neighbor, exposed their own prejudices. And maybe they were offended by the evidence of Jesus’ power and wisdom, both seen as divine gifts.

Jesus’ amazement at the community’s lack of faith paralleled their taking offense at his message. Their unbelief not only closed them to receiving Jesus’ message, it prevented Jesus’ from fully expressing it. Although he was shocked, he was not deterred. He knew it was pointless to try to move people who refused to hear, so he took the message elsewhere to a more receptive audience. And this is excellent news for every one of us.

The World is a Mess

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

I have a friend whose outlook on the state of the world has been reduced to conspiracy theories and an impending Armageddon. She shocked me the other day with words to this affect: “This city is home to a bunch of grubbers and people who are used to having everything done for them. When (the end) breaks loose and they lose everything and come knocking at my door, I won’t open it. Because I planned ahead and I’m taking care of myself.”

This is so sad. In addition to her teeny tiny unhappy world that she believes is about to implode, she has no faith and no vision. No faith in the generosity and goodness of others; no vision for a better world.

Granted, the daily hell we hear and read about and experience is unbearable. No need to spell out the escalating atrocities. People, nations, and leaders do unspeakable things to other people, nations, and leaders. It has to stop. “I beg you, stop. I ask you with all my heart,” Pope Francis said as part of his message to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican for the Angelus noon prayer on Sunday, July 27, 2014.

Let me tell you a different story. Three students making their way to a distant city, driving (perhaps a little too fast) on an unpaved road in a rural area of a South American country experienced a blowout and found their car spinning out of control until it slammed into a cinder block home. Amidst the shattered glass and gravel, the stunned students pulled themselves out of the wreckage. The two-room house, home to a poor couple with 11 children, was rubble. Miraculously no one was in the house at the time of the impact, but the damage was severe. Also miraculous, thanks in part to seat belts and airbags the three students’ injuries were limited to whiplash, cuts and bruises.

What happened next, as told to me by one of the students, provides a context and instruction to those of us who suffer losses and face our daily rubble, especially when the damage prevents us from seeing beyond the hurt to restoration. “After a few hours passed and the sun set, the family invited us to sit with them in the house (literally on bricks that had fallen) to eat dinner with them. They brought us eggs and potatoes and put blankets over our shoulders. I can’t really think of anything more incredible than this – we destroyed their home, and they invited us to eat with them.”

Jesus says “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid. What might have been a human tragedy can be re-framed as a miracle of human kindness. These are the whispers that tell us God is with us. These are the acts that renew our faith and give us courage. Jesus is here.  This is what living in right relationship with the World looks like.This is what it means to be an evangelizing people.

The World is not a mess.

Today’s readings can be found here.