Lectio Divina for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 4, 2021
Jesus departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples.
When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue,
and many who heard him were astonished.
They said, “Where did this man get all this?
What kind of wisdom has been given him?
What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!
Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary,
and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?
And are not his sisters here with us?”
And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them,
“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place
and among his own kin and in his own house.”
So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there,
apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.
He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Jesus … came to his native place
In the 1930s, American novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote the book You Can’t Go Home Again. It tells the story of how George Webber, a novelist, returns to his hometown after writing a novel about it, and is met with outrage from his former neighbors. He was just trying to tell a good story, but they felt it was at the expense of their reputation. A good story enriches your life in some way, whether it’s through inspiration, wisdom, joy, or even just some humor. Sometimes, I must admit, I picture the Gospel story as just a collection of wise sayings and parables with a sad ending. The ending, in fact, is the main part that comes to mind when I think of the Gospel story. There is so much more to it, though. Jesus came from somewhere. He had a childhood filled with mysteries we still don’t know much about. He probably had friends growing up that we never heard of. He was the son of a carpenter in an otherwise average family, despite being the Son of God and the son of the Mother of God. Nazareth plays an important part in the Gospel story. It provides the backdrop for so many other parts and helps us see Jesus as a real person who had interactions with neighbors similar to those we had when we were growing up. Nazareth brings home the reality of Thomas Wolfe’s words of wisdom: home is not the same when we return because both you and it will have changed in some way. When Jesus started his ministry, at least people’s perception of him changed. The young man who left town as the son of Mary and Joseph returned as the man who resisted the devil in the desert and was now curing people of diseases and performing other miracles. Nazareth, Jesus’ home, would never be the same because the people who knew him from his younger years would never see him the same way. Perhaps more significantly though, Jesus is now on a mission to lead people to his heavenly home. He has left behind his earthly identity. This is why, when someone tells him his mother and brethren want to speak with him in Matthew 12, he says “Who is my mother, and who are my brethren? … whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.” When Jesus returns to Nazareth, he is different and the townspeople notice the change. Was there ever such a striking realization of the proverbial saying, “you can’t come home again”?
And they took offense at him.
My first reaction to this line is to ask “Why?” Why would Jesus’ neighbors, the people he grew up with, take offense when he demonstrates his wisdom and skill at teaching? If anything, one would think they’d be impressed, proud of him, and genuinely interested to learn where he acquired such wisdom. Upon further meditation, I notice why they react this way, though. They thought they knew Jesus. They thought he was just a simple man, the son of a carpenter. So, who was he to assume that he could teach them something about God? This reaction to Christ’s teaching reveals a lot about the current state of affairs in Israel. The Jewish religion had become sour in many ways. The people of Nazareth would accuse a good teacher of hubris before they would accept his wise teaching. This is a problem that Jesus would confront quite often in the synagogues, among the rabbis, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, who preferred praise and recognition over actually receiving wisdom from God. They valued their societal status over their relationship with the Lord. Am I guilty of the same vanity? What am I truly searching for when I seek to acquire more knowledge and understanding of God?
“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place”
Jesus calls himself a prophet. He does not call himself the Son of God. In fact, nowhere in the Gospels does he call himself the Son of God. He calls himself the Son of Man. God the Father calls him his son at his baptism and Transfiguration. He calls God his father, but he teaches us to do the same. He affirms Peter when Peter says “you are the son of the living God.” But Jesus consistently eludes using the title himself. Why does he do that? Because he wants others to say it. He wants God the Father to say it to give people fodder for faith. He wants believers to say it to demonstrate their faith. Anyone can claim to be the son of God. Jesus wants the claim to come from outside himself so it actually means something. He wants the testimony to be full of faith. But here, when he visits his hometown, not only do they not believe he is the Son of God. They won’t even accept him as a prophet. Some of them don’t even think Jesus is worthy to be teaching in the synagogue. They utterly lack faith probably because they are blinded by jealousy and envy. Their knowledge of who they thought Jesus was prevented them from seeing him for who he truly is. How often does my own knowledge and understandings of people, situations, and current issues hinder my faith in what God can do?
So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there
Why does Christ’s ability to perform mighty deeds depend on the faith of those around him? He is God after all. Why can’t he perform miracles regardless of how much faith people have in him? Scripture does not say he refused to perform mighty deeds as a sort of reparation for the people’s lack of faith. It says “he was not able”. It’s hard to imagine Jesus not being able to do anything. What’s going on here? We may never understand the mystical relationship between Christ and his Body, the Church. It does make sense that faith is necessary in order for him to perform miracles though, because his miracles are not about his power. They’re about his relationship with those who believe in him. It’s about love, and a loving relationship requires effort from both parties. Christ’s entire ministry and death would mean nothing if not for the love we return to him for doing what he did for us. God is trying to win over our hearts. Don’t look at the material--or what St. Thomas Aquinas would call the “accidentals”--of Jesus’ miracles. Look at what it would mean to those observing the mighty deeds. They already demonstrated their lack of faith in who Christ was by taking offense to his teaching. His miracles would have probably just hardened their hearts even further. It would have been like giving a gift to a spoiled child. In giving a gift, we all know it’s not so much about the actual thing we’re giving. The value is in how much it means to the one receiving the gift. For this crowd, the gift would have meant nothing. God’s miracles are a two-way street. Indeed, he performs miracles all over the world every day; but they have no significance to those who lack faith. We often try to explain away the miracles he performs with our own knowledge and understanding, kind of like how the people of Nazareth tried to dismiss Jesus as just the son of a carpenter.
Lord Jesus, so often when you give me words of wisdom it’s because you want me to take an honest look at myself, and see if the convictions in those words apply to me and my life. Are you looking to teach to me the very things that I intend to teach others? Jesus was the Truth incarnate when he taught in the synagogue, and even then there were those who dismissed his teaching. Thank you for the wisdom you give to me. I pray that it is not lost on me, and that I apply it to my life. Please continue to enlightenment me with your truth, because the light you shine on my life is the sweetest gift one can ever give to me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
If we listen, the Truth will speak to us. Take a moment to be silent and listen to Jesus. What was he teaching in the synagogue? The Gospel leaves that detail open so he can speak whatever words you need to hear from him right now.
David Kilby is a freelancer writer from New Jersey and managing editor of Catholic World Report.
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