Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
July 9, 2006
Ezek 2:2-5; 2Cor 12:7-10; Mk 6:1-6
1) In today’s Gospel, there’s a scene that should bring those who truly love Jesus almost to the point of tears. He came to his hometown. He already had a famous reputation for the teachings and the miracles he had worked throughout Galilee. He had cast out demons, cured the paralyzed and the sick, and taught with authority unlike any had ever heard. He visited his neighborhood synagogue on a Saturday, just like he used to do when he was a boy. The rabbi allowed him to come up to teach. St. Luke’s Gospel tells us what he did (see Lk 4:16-30). Jesus unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and read the passage, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This was a passage referring to the Messiah for whom the Jews had long awaited. Jesus’ homily, his commentary on that passage, was one sentence long. “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing
2) St. Mark and St. Luke both tell us that his listeners’ first reaction to Jesus’ teaching was astonishment. They were amazed at the “gracious words that came from his mouth” and “the wisdom that had been given to him.” But that quickly changed once they began to reflect what he said. Jesus was saying that HE WAS THE MESSIAH, that all the words the Isaiah wrote about the Messiah were being fulfilled in him. That couldn’t be, they thought, because they knew him. They likely had pieces of furniture he made. Perhaps he had played with their kids when he was younger. They just asked themselves, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” Their doubts quickly multiplied and, as St. Mark tells us, they began to “take offense at Jesus.” Not only would they not believe in what he said, but what he said offended them, because if he were the Messiah, it would necessarily change their relationship with him and, in fact, change their whole lives. Jesus knew their thoughts and said, “a prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown, and among his own kin and in his own house.” That, St. Luke tells us, “filled them with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff, but he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” In the matter of a few minutes, they went from praising him and amazement, to doubts, to taking offense at him, to trying to kill him. Not only would they not accept Jesus as a prophet by heeding his words and welcoming him as they would the God who sent him, but they, like preceding generations who “kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to it” (Mt 23:37), would seek to kill him.
3) Jesus’ reaction to all of this was “amazement at their lack of faith.” In other cities, strangers who didn’t know him growing up were willing to leave everything to follow him, were moved and converted by his preaching, and were amazed by his miraculous power such that they with faith were bringing to him all those who needed help. But among his own, he was rejected and deserving of death. It was a blow that seemed to knock the spiritual wind out of Jesus such that he could work no miracles there, St. Mark tells us, except curing a few sick people.
4) The question we need to ask is: Why did they reject him? Why did they try to kill him? St. John gives us the answer in the prologue to his Gospel: “He came to his own, and his own people did not accept him. … The light came into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” They didn’t want a real Messiah, even or especially if he were a native son, because a real Messiah would change their behavior. They wanted both to keep their concept of Messiah neatly packaged and unthreatening, and to keep Jesus from having any sway over them, because if he were the Messiah, then they would have to change, and they preferred to live in their darkness. They preferred not to have Scripture fulfilled in their hearing. They didn’t want to hear the good news. They didn’t want to be set free from their self-imposed prisons. They did not want to be cured of their spiritual blindness.
5) But this Gospel does not refer merely to what happened 2000 years ago when Jesus returned to his home town. Like every Gospel, it must be actualized, applied to the present day. To do that, we first need to ask who are Jesus’ “own” people today? Who are his kinsmen? Who are the modern Nazarenes that he wants to accept him as a prophet and have Scripture fulfilled in their midst? The answer is WE ARE. Through baptism, we have become true members of his family, his spiritual brothers and sisters. Through the Eucharist, we become blood relatives. Most of us have grown up with the Lord our whole lives. We’ve familiar with him. As with our other relatives, we have pictures of him at home, we celebrate his birthday every Christmas, we celebrate the most important moment of his life every spring. The question for us is whether we, like the majority of ancient Nazarenes, allow our familiarity with Jesus actually to WEAKEN, rather than STRENGTHEN our faith. Do we allow our greater contact with Jesus to make us take him for granted or to help us grow in love for him? Do we embrace him fully like the Nazarene girl who said “Let it be done to me according to your word?” or take offense at him like the others in his hometown? Jesus sees all of us here today and knows our hearts. Would he say to us, like he said to the Syro-Phoenician mother in the Gospel, “O Woman, great is your faith!” (Mt 15:28 )? Would he praise us like he lauded the pagan Centurion who believed that Jesus would only have to say a word from a distance for his son to be healed, “Not even in Israel have I found such faith!” (Lk 7:9). Or would he be amazed at our lack of faith?
6) The answer to that question will be seen in whether we accept or reject Jesus as a prophet. We show whether we have faith in him by whether we have faith in his words and act on them. When he comes to us, his own, as the light of the world, do we “love darkness because our deeds are evil” or live and walk in the light of the Lord? Jesus speaks to us every day through Sacred Scripture, through the readings at Mass, through the Church he founded, through the priests who he has ordained and sent out to preach the Good News. When he sent his first disciples out to proclaim the Gospel of God’s kingdom, he said, “Whoever hears you hears me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Lk 10:16). So the big test of whether we honor or reject Christ the prophet is whether we listen to and act on the words of those he has sent out in his name and with his power, or not.
7) There’s a story in the life of St. Anthony our patron which illustrates this truth which our predecessors here at this parish wanted us to capture. If you look in the vault of the nave, there are various round disks with episodes from the life of our patron. One of them, the one on top of the pillar on which the original pulpit of this Church was located, shows the famous story of St. Anthony’s preaching to the fish. Once, when St. Anthony was preaching the Gospel, the people were not paying very close attention. They were distracted. Perhaps they were tired — after all, his homilies used to last an hour. But they were not honoring the word of God and Christ the prophet who was preaching through him. So St. Anthony told them that they were not paying attention and that he was going to go down to preach to those who would take the word of God seriously. He went down to the shore and began to preach to the fish. Eventually the fish started to assemble in the shallow water and began to jump and down at the good news. Some people who had followed St. Anthony witnessed the miracle and brought others to see it. The people were all convicted. If the fish could jump for joy and pay attention to the word of God, then surely the “fish of Christ” caught by the “fishers of men” should do the same. Our forefathers placed the image of that miracle right above the old pulpit because they wanted to remind everyone that it is from that pulpit that Christ continues to preach through his priests. St. Anthony’s message, the message of Christ, continues to be heard from the pulpit of our Church, of every Catholic Church that teaches in union with Scripture and tradition. Are we honoring Christ the prophet by heeding what is said, or are we rejecting him by an over-familiarity that breeds contempt.
8 ) Today we have one of those reality checks in our faith, to indicate to us whether we embrace Christ the Messiah as a prophet, or whether we reject him. On Wednesday, there is a very important vote on Beacon Hill. We need 50 legislators of 200 to vote to allow it to progress toward the 2008 ballot. Now is the time for every Catholic citizen, and every Catholic legislator, to prove whether they embrace or take offense at Jesus and his teachings. Jesus taught very clearly about what marriage is in St. Matthew’s Gospel, in response to a question: “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mt 19:3-12). This points to five truths about marriage:
a. In the beginning, God made the human person male and female, and not male and male, or female and female. This was part of his plan.
b. A man leaves his father and mother, and not his two daddies or two mommies. The family is not supposed to be a father-less or a mother-less institution.
c. The man clings, not to whomever he wishes, but to his wife.
d. The man and woman are called to become one flesh. This does not refer merely, or even principally, to the temporary physical contact between them in making love, but rather to the fusion of their flesh in a child, whom we know from biology is a union of half the father’s flesh and half the mother’s. Same-sex unions are obviously incapable of this one-flesh union.
e. The human person is not to separate what God has joined together, and God has joined man and woman in marriage.
9) Faced with what Jesus teaches about marriage, each of us has a choice to make, whether we will embrace it or whether we will take offense at the message and the messenger. There are many people in the world, including some Catholics, who do take offense at this teaching. One example is Senator Kennedy, who said a few weeks ago that anyone who is against same-sex marriage is a “bigot, pure and simple.” When faced with Jesus’ teaching about marriage, and popular culture’s teaching, he chose the latter. Others, like the Nazarenes, have come up with a notion of the Messiah of their own choosing, often because they don’t want to leave the darkness of their worldly understanding or evil deeds behind and come into Jesus’ light. They believe, accurately, that Jesus is “kind and merciful,” compassionate to the outcasts, and loves all of us, but they don’t factor the fullness of how Jesus showed us his love, by teaching us his commandments, by instructing us about marriage, by calling us all to conversion through the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus loves all those in same-sex relations, just like he loves those who are divorced and remarried outside of the Church, or those who are living together outside of wedlock, or those who in any way may be acting contrary to his law. But his mercy is shown in offering them his forgiveness, showing them his light and asking them to live and walk in it — not in trying to pretend as if he approves of what they’re doing is all right. He welcomes everyone, but calls everyone to conversion, to live in accordance with his truth. We cannot say that we believe in Jesus if we take offense at and reject his teachings. We are not receiving him as a prophet if we think he’s wrong and Justice Marshall is right on something as important as the primordial sacrament of marriage.
10) The bishops, who are the successors of the apostles sent out among us to proclaim the Gospel, have called on all Catholics to get in touch with their legislators to persuade them to vote on Wednesday to allow the protection of marriage amendment to come to the ballot in 2008. Have you done so yet? One litmus test of whether we are receiving Jesus as a prophet is whether we hear or reject those whom he has sent to us in his name (see above, Luke 10:16). He has sent us the bishops as the successors of the apostles, as the new wave that teach with his authority. The Massachusetts’ bishops’ letter calling all of us to action is printed in this weekend’s bulletin, as well as the names and the telephone numbers of local representatives and senators. Please respond to their request as you would to the request by Jesus, by acting on his word.
11) Jesus continues to preach and to teach, but we must respond with faith. There’s a story of a Catholic university philosophy professor in Italy who was interviewed by the newspaper after one of his students had become a famous porn-star. In an interview for a magazine, the young man mentioned that he had fond memories of his college years, especially that professor’s class, in which he said he really learned how to think. He never missed a class, he recounted, he took assiduous notes, sat in the front row and ended up acing the final exam. So the reporter went to interview this ethics professor about his former student. The aging professor said when asked about the man, “He was never my student.” The reporter, thinking that the professor just couldn’t recall his now well-known former pupil, told him what the actor had said, that he had never missed a class, used to sit in the front row, had aced his final exam, etc. The professor said, “No, you misunderstand me. I remember the boy very well and he was in my class, but he was never my student.” The reporter was obviously confused. The professor clarified: “To be my student, one needs to do more than occupy space in my classroom, or regurgitate what I said on the final exam. To be my student, one needs to put what I teach into practice, and that’s why that boy was never my student.” Disciple is simply the fancy Greek word for student and we’re called to be students of Jesus in just this way. He calls us as his disciples to do more than show up and know what he says, but to act on what he says and trust in Him even when it’s hard. All of Scripture is fulfilled in Jesus, whom we’re called to embrace fully, just as he has embraced us fully. This faith is what will allow Jesus to perform mighty deeds in us and for us.
12) Today, on this Christian sabbath, the same Jesus who came to his own in Nazareth, comes here to New Bedford. He’s already taught us in Sacred Scripture, which is being fulfilled by Him live in our hearing. He awaits welcoming him in faith letting His word take flesh in us. As we prepare to receive the Word made Flesh in Holy Communion, let us ask him first to make our hearts fitting and hospitable places for the Lord to dwell, like the Blessed Virgin Mary’s, so that like her we may take Jesus within us out to others so that he may announce to them the good news, set them free from their sins, and enjoy the Lord’s favor!