Jul 7, 2012

14th Sunday: A necessary voice

"A prophet is not without honor except in his native place . . ."

Ez 2: 2-5
2 Cor 12: 7-10
Mk 6: 1-6

There’s nothing like family to keep you humble.  Those who know us best are a constant living reminder of where we came from.  They remember all the stories of our childhood, our interaction with brothers and sisters, our acting up and acting out, our goodness and our naughtiness.  Mother’s in particular are wonderful gages of reality.  They gave birth to us, changed our diapers, and scolded us when we were disobedient, supported us in times of challenge and encouraged us when others were indifferent.  All considered, our families keep us grounded in reality lest we become too impressed by our own self-importance.

Unsolicited by him, it seems such a reality check is offered by Jesus’ own extended family in this Sunday’s Gospel from Mark.  In a moment of disbelief, the assembled synagogue crowd comments: “Where did this man get all this? . . . Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? . . . And they took offense at him.” Tough crowd!

Joseph, Mary’s husband, was a skilled worker in both wood and stone.  In the time of Jesus such men would often wander from town to town looking for work.  They were both carpenters but also were proficient in other trades – kind of a handy man as we understand them today. It is very likely that Joseph did travel and Jesus with him in his younger years. Nonetheless, it is from such a common profession that Jesus’ emerges.  His townsfolk of Nazareth, however unfair, are fixed on cultural stereotypes so how dare Jesus present himself as above such a status.  Who does he think he is?

In light of our first reading from Ezekiel about the vocation of a prophet of God, the criticism is understandable. Ezekiel is in the unenviable position: “. . . I am sending you to the Israelites, rebels who have rebelled against me . . . Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they . . .” I can just hear Ezekiel saying, “So, why bother with them?”

Yet, the call of the prophet was less about success than it was about witness.  One who would fulfill the call of God to enter the midst of hostility and speak a word of truth and in some cases, warning.  It was more important that, “. . . they shall know that a prophet has been among them” than it was to worry about a hospitable welcome.  Not the most appealing “occupation” for sure. But imagine a society without such prophetic words. 

Jesus, as he stands in midst of his own, represents all that the great Old Testament prophets had experienced but even more so becomes a sign for his own disciples and for any who would bear the name Christian.

Jesus did not come to show us an easy path.  He speaks of the “eye of the needle” and the “narrow gate.” Now, that doesn’t by any means imply that we are destined to lives of suffering and rejection.  There is great joy in following Christ and that joy is God’s intent for us (John 10:10) and St. Paul often speaks of the joy of following Christ (Rm 15:13).

But, there is a responsibility that we carry due to our baptism.  Wrapped up in the Christian moral code of life is a foundational duty to live by the truth and to seek that truth as reveled for us by God.  In our present secular society we find tremendous benefits that make life easy and comfortable; convenient and quick; painless and secure.

We have become masters of our own lives and find the very idea of dependency abhorrent. Individual freedoms, rights and choices are the mantra of the secular gospel. “I’m doing just fine, thank you very much! You live your life and I’ll live mine.” Sound familiar? Look at what has happened to marriage and family life. Divorce has become the norm rather than the exception these days and we all want what we want rather than what is best for the common good.  Sacrifice?  Why should I?   

Religion, with its emphasis on the natural law, absolute moral truths and its dare to individualism and the right to make choices contrary to Gospel values, is met with hostility.  Those who represent such a moral code or faith-based community are labeled as offensive to the social progress of things. Not at all unlike Jesus himself who was met with confusion and rejection by those who had become, “hard of face and obstinate of heart.” One of our Presidential candidates has adopted the slogan “Forward” as his theme.  Where are we going?

I wonder if we live today in an age of both mental and spiritual hardness? Like the folks of Nazareth we find ourselves blinded by our own success and so obstinate of heart that we refuse to acknowledge the possibility that we may indeed be off track. It is indeed a crisis of faith today.

The very mission of the Church is a prophetic one.  To speak out and to authentically live the words we speak. When the Church speaks out in defense of the unborn, the poor, in hopes of peace rather than war, the immigrant, for the right to worship freely without government interference, in times of political debate on issues that concern the common good of all, and other such related human needs, the Church speaks as a prophet.

When we gather for Eucharist in Word and Sacrament, we hear the blueprint for our lives.  If we choose to listen with an open heart, we will recognize both where we have fallen short and where we find comfort and strength.  If we hear with a “hard face” and an obstinate heart, then we find ourselves in the synagogue of Nazareth. 

O God, who in the abasement of your Son
have raised up a fallen world,
fill your faithful with holy joy,
for on those you have recused from slavery to sin
you bestow eternal gladness.
(Collect for Sunday)