(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
After several Sundays of hearing Jesus teach and travel around Israel, this Sunday we return with him to his hometown of Nazareth.
He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.
Let's take notice of this. His disciples follow him to Nazareth.
On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offence at him.
Like all the faithful, Jesus goes to the synagogue on Saturday, the holy day of the week for the Jewish people. On the Sabbath, people gather in the synagogue to pray. It is customary to invite one of the Jewish men to read from scripture and to teach. On this day, they invite Jesus teach. We do not know what they were expecting, but the teaching of Jesus astounds them. They are surprised, but not in a good way. Maybe we could say they are shocked.
They begin to ask a series of questions. They do not seem to be talking to Jesus, though. We picture them muttering among themselves. What do these questions mean?
Where did this man get all this?
They are not astounded by the teaching after all. They are astounded that "this man" has this teaching. Where did he get it? It sounds like they think he stole the teaching, that it doesn't belong to him, that he has no right to teach. They are not interested in reflecting together about "wisdom" or "deeds of power." They are not going to listen to someone whom they believe is only a carpenter, the relative of ordinary people that they meet each day.
The most shocking part is that,
they took offence at him.
He is familiar to them, yet he is speaking like he knows something more. He is an ordinary person, yet he is acting like he is someone special. They are not interested in considering who he might be; they seem instead to be asking, "Who does he think he is?" They are not going to listen to the message; they are offended by the messenger.
Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”
This is interesting. Jesus identifies himself as a prophet, one who listens with his or her whole being to the Word of God, and then tells the world what he or she has heard. A prophet speaks God's Word into the world--the Word of mercy and forgiveness, the Word of love and peace.
Jesus says prophets are honoured. People recognize that they have an important role within the Plan of God. But not all people recognize this. The people who know him or her best can be the very ones who do not realize that they are in the presence of one who walks with God. Jesus knows that the life of the prophet is not an easy one.
And he could do no deed of power there
This is a disturbing line, isn't it? Why can Jesus do no deeds of power? What has happened?
except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.
So, Jesus has some power--he heals some people. A few. But that's all. Why?
And he was amazed at their unbelief.
The people are astounded at Jesus; Jesus, in return, is amazed at them. Everyone is shocked and disturbed by the other.
What do the disciples make of all this? They are silent throughout this whole Gospel passage. They see their beloved Jesus--the one who speaks so passionately about the Kingdom of God, who calms the wind and water, who raises children from the dead--unable to perform because of the people's unbelief.
Or not allowed?
God does not seem to be in the business of proving things to people. If God showed God's full power, showed God's full self to us right here and right now, we would be overwhelmed. We could not help but believe. We would have no choice. But God does not seem to want that. God does not want us forced into worship. God is not tricking us into drinking love potions. God wants us to choose to follow, wants us to choose to love freely. And Jesus seems to be right on board with this plan. Jesus chooses weakness.
Jesus chooses weakness in the face of unbelief. "We do this together," he seems to say, "or not at all." He chooses weakness in the face of sin, too. All the way to the cross. All the way to the grave.
What do the disciples make of this? The person they follow does not show his power. They doubt at times that he has power, don't they? Most of them do not gather around the cross. Most of them are not there at his grave.
But they do not give up faith. Even when it is difficult, they still believe. And after the cross, after the grave, when weakness is transformed into the greatest of strengths, they meet Jesus again.
What do we make of this? The life of the prophet is not easy. Jesus shows us this. But why do we need to know this? Why is it important to know that some people rejected Jesus? We have to remember that when we are baptized, we are each called to join in Christ's mission. We are all baptized to be priest like him, prophet like him, king like him.
Prophet like him. A role that is honoured. A role that is also rejected.
We are called to speak God's Word into the world by our words and by our actions--a word of mercy and forgiveness, a word of love and peace. Sometimes we will be strong and honoured. But at times we will be weak and rejected. Frankly, no one wants that. But St. Paul writes in the 2nd reading this week,
I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
It is hard to understand--weakness that is actually strength. What we can remember is that Jesus does not try to prove himself to people who do not believe. And neither do we. We simply live our lives--our prophetic lives--of mercy and forgiveness, of love and peace, and let God's power do the work.