Sunday, July 5, 2015

HOMILY 14th Ord Time Cycle B St. Austin, Austin, TX July 4/5, 2015

          The word Gospel means “good news”.   And of course it is.  But I find today’s Gospel passage rather depressing and kind of sad.  Because it shows just how powerful jealousy, envy, put downs and gossip really are.  They are so powerful that they severely hamper Jesus in His mission.
          Jesus goes to “his native place”, presumably Nazareth.  But Mark doesn’t mention the town of Nazareth, because I believe St. Mark does not mean this to be about one little town in Galilee a long time ago.  St. Mark leaves it indefinite because Mark is talking about all places at all times.  This is equally true of Austin, TX in 2015.  The Gospel is about today, here on the Drag.
          Jesus teaches in the synagogue.  He must have been a great preacher, because St. Mark comments “many who heard him were astonished.”   Jesus makes a great impact!  This is wonderful!  Jesus is a great success!  Right?
          Well, not so fast.  The local gossip mill goes into overdrive.  People start asking lots of questions.  Anonymous postings begin to flood the internet.  “They said, ‘Where did this man get all this?”   What are his credentials?  Where did he get his degree?  What University did he graduate from?   Facebook comments pore out.
          “What kind of wisdom has been given him?”  Has this teaching been approved by the scribes and priests?  Does the Bishop know about this?  Where is this in the Catechism of the Catholic Church?
          And what about his background?  “Is he not the carpenter,” not a theologian but a carpenter,   “the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?  And are not his sisters here with us!”   Of course we know all about this guy.  And he is nothing special.  Who does he think he is?
          “And” the Gospel tells us, “they took offense at him.” 
          So, Jesus had brought them a wonderful, precious, spectacular gift:  The Gospel.  But by criticism, jealousy, envy, gossip, carping and put-downs, they have not just rejected the Gospel, but just about shut it down.  “And they took offense at him.” 
          I think this is why Pope Francis so many times preaches and riles against gossip and malicious criticism and carping and innuendo and cynical comments, because of the terrible, terrible damage they can do. 
          If they can shut down Jesus, “So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them,” then think of what such gossip and criticism does to our much weaker brothers and sisters.  It is terrible!
          We have this tremendous power to both put people down and effectively shut them down, and conversely to lift people up and empower them to more authentic and healthy and creative lives by our affirmation, support and compliments.  That too is a great power.
          The last line of our Gospel is rather startling.  It says of Jesus, “He was amazed at their lack of faith.”  This is surprising because Jesus in the Gospels is always shown as having deep insight into people and human nature in general.  Much more common in the Gospels in the passage in the Gospel of John 2: 24-5  “But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature.  He himself understood it well. 
          Yet here in His native place Jesus is amazed, startled, taken aback at their lack of faith.  Maybe it was because He knew these people well.  He had worked with them, swapped stories with them, prayed with them, shared meals with them, played ball with their kids, seen the same events with them, cried at funerals with them, shared life with them.  And maybe because of this Jesus thought, or better hoped, that they would not be so narrow, so closed in, so resistant to something new, so set in their ways, so opposed to new and challenging understandings.  Maybe Jesus really had hoped they would open their hearts to Him.  And so “He was amazed at their lack of faith.”
          And that lack of faith hurt.  It shut Jesus down.  “So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.”
          We too are among those villagers.  And we have the same power to shut out Jesus and shut Him down.  We have the awful power to criticize, put down, mock, and scorn the many ways that Jesus may come to us.  And we also have the power to open ourselves to challenging new ways of living the Kingdom of God in mutual respect, generosity, compassion, service, fidelity, hope, faith and most of all love.  Jesus can be powerful in us, but He will not do so against our will.   We must offer Him our cooperation, support, and dare I even say our encouragement.  He will not force us.
          The Gospel, I said at the beginning, is Good News.  Our passage today is verses 1 through 6 of chapter six, but, BUT, we have only the First Half of verse six in our reading.  For me the good news here is in the Second Half of the last verse of this passage, which unfortunately is left out.  The second half of verse six reads: “He went around to the villages in the vicinity teaching.” 
          Jesus is not stopped nor even slowed down by the disastrous reception in His native place.  He keeps right on trucking.  He moves on to the other villages, to people who would be less critical, less threatened, more open and willing to receive Him and His message of the Kingdom of God.  And in the next verse, verse seven, Jesus ups His game and sends out the Apostles two by two, giving them authority over unclean spirits, to reach even more towns and more people with the good news of the Gospel. 
          Jesus may have been amazed at the people’s lack of faith in His native place, but He was not distracted nor slowed down even for a second.  He never lost a beat in His mission. 
          So there is no question that the Gospel will still be proclaimed, that God’s Kingdom will come.  The question rather is whether we will be a part of it, or not.

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