How to Receive and Follow Jesus, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), July 6, 2003

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Francis Xavier Church, Hyannis, MA
14th Sunday of OT, Year B
July 6, 2003
Ez 2:2-5; 2 Cor 7-10; Mk 6:1-6

1) Today’s readings focus on two of the most essential realities of living the Christian life: first, how to receive Jesus, by learning from the mistakes of the people of Nazareth; and how to follow Jesus — what our frame of mind should be — in fulfilling our mission to proclaim Him, the Good News incarnate, to others. We’ll take each in turn.

2) The Gospel tells us that Jesus came to his home town accompanied by his disciples. He had finished visiting many of the towns of Galilee, where he had cast out demons, cured countless sick people and taught with authority unlike any had ever heard. With an incredibly high reputation, he returned home. On the Sabbath, he went to the Synagogue, proclaimed Sacred Scripture, and gave us his first homily in his home town, a homily that was one sentence long. The passage was taken from the prophet Isaiah: “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.” Then came the homily, which got right to the point: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” At first the reaction was positive. Many who heard him were “astonished.” They were amazed at the “gracious words that came from his mouth.” And his message was a very hopeful one that he was already fulfilling in preaching the Good News to the poor, curing the blind, setting free those in the grip of demons. This was messianic language. God was obviously working through their former resident. And that was too much for them. “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” “Are not his relatives with us? St. Mark tells us that “they took offense at him.” They took such offense that, at the end of the service, they drove him out of the town and led him up to the brow of the hill on which Nazareth is built so that they might hurl him off the cliff and kill him. They didn’t succeed, but St. Mark tells us that Jesus was AMAZED at their lack of faith.

3) Why did they reject him? Why didn’t they receive the Good News? Why did they try to kill their fellow Nazarene? St. John tells us in the prologue to his Gospel that “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.” The people of Nazareth thought they knew Jesus because they had pieces of furniture he made, or he used to play with their kids, or because he was a familiar, humble face from past Saturdays at the Synagogue. In their own mind, they agreed with the query of Nathanael, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” They were unwilling to let Jesus and the good change them. They did not want to be illumined by what he had come to teach, they did not want to be warmed by the message of his love. They did not even want to admit what even Jesus’ professed enemies readily admitted — Jesus’ tremendous gifts and talents. They preferred darkness to light, ignorance to knowledge, judgmentalism to love. They had their own idea of how everything fit together and were not willing to have Jesus shake them out of their ideas.

4) Are there any Nazarenes today? Who are “Jesus’s own”? It’s US, who are the members of his family through baptism, his spiritual brothers and sisters. We’re the ones who have grown up with the Lord. We’ve become familiar with him through the years. Like of our other relatives, we have pictures of him at home, we celebrate his birthday every Christmas, we remember his death every spring. But some Christians — like most Nazarenes — allow their familiarity with Jesus actually to WEAKEN, rather than STRENGTHEN their faith. For those who do not work to treasure and be grateful for their encounters with the Lord, they can start to take Jesus for granted, and their faith can grow dull.

5) And so the question is: How do we receive Jesus well? How do we allow out contact with him in Sacred Scripture (in which he speaks to us live), in the Eucharist (in which we receive his body and blood), in the teaching of the Church he founded on the apostles (to whom he said, “he who hears you, hears me”) to be faith-enriching encounters rather than become routine, ordinary, normal, and even boring — they type of lack of faith that “amazed” Jesus? We need to learn from that Nazarene girl who received Jesus perfectly, who listened to the Word and treasured it so much that it actually took her own flesh, Mary. She responded always with a yes to the Lord and treasured Him and His word, even when it was difficult. We’re called to welcome the Lord with that type of faith, to hunger for the Word he is so much that that word can take on our own flesh. We’re called not just to be familiar with Jesus, not just to know about him or what he says, but to put into practice what he says and experience the joy that comes from that union. 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 with the “actor,” 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, and ended up doing well on the final exam. So the reporter went to interview the philosophy professor about his former student. The aging professor said, “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, 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, but 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.

4) The second thing we learn today is about our mission in this world. To embrace Jesus means to embrace his command to “follow me” and “go to the whole world and announce the Good News.” On the day of our baptism, and especially through our confirmation, we have received from God the mission to spread the Good News, to announce Jesus and his saving mission to everyone. The Holy Father has been losing his aging vocal cords calling us to carry out the new evangelization, to re-evangelize a culture that was once Christian in name and in fact but now is just Christian in name. Many people in our culture have a familiarity with Jesus, like the Nazareans did, but they don’t really have faith in him and live that faith by enfleshing his teachings, commandments and Gospel. Into this culture, the Lord is sending us. By our baptism, he calls us to be prophets, and sends us out as his apostles in the New Acts of Apostles the Holy Spirit wants to write for the 21st century. But this is not an easy task, just as Jesus’s wasn’t easy. Some will receive us and this message, some will reject us. Our job, as Mother Teresa often used to say, is to be faithful, not necessarily successful. The prophet Ezekiel discovers this reality in the first reading. God sent him to proclaim his message to the “hard of face” and “obstinate of heart,” that “thus says the Lord!” God told Ezekiel that some would reject him and some accept him, but everyone would know that a prophet was among them. Some would reject him, not because the message was in any way defective, not because he himself had “failed,” but because their hearts were hardened. Jesus taught the same message in his parable about the seed and the sower. The seed was perfect, the sower did his job, but some seed fell by the hard stubborned wayside, others on rocky, superficial soil that could provide no nourishment, others among thorns from the environment which choked the seed to death, and only some on good soil that produced fruit. We are the sowers God wants to use for the 21st century, and we’ll encounter all four types of soil. And the Lord sends us out to sow his seed, knowing that in some places the seed won’t take, but in others it will. How could St. Andrew have known when he brought the good news to his brother, Simon, that the Lord was going to build His Church on his brother? Perhaps the person to whom we announce the Gospel today will receive the seed so well and allow the Lord to nourish it that that person will become a future saint, a future Mother Teresa, a future Pope.

5) Many Catholics feel unfit for this task of preaching the Gospel. They feel unprepared and a little uncomfortable. They think they don’t know the faith well enough, perhaps, to explain it cogently to others. They just see all their weaknesses and shortcomings. That’s why today’s second reading from St. Paul is so consoling. He himself describes the mysterious “thorn in the flesh” he had, which bothered him greatly, and about which he begged the Lord three times so that it might be taken away. Scholars aren’t sure what he was referring to. Some think it was a physical illness, others something perhaps grotesque about him, others some type of stuttering problem. Whatever it was, Paul considered it an incredible weakness which in his own mind weakened his ministry. But God’s response to his prayer was interesting: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul’s weakness allowed the greatness of the Lord to shine through him all the more, to the point that Paul could rejoice that when he was weak, it was then that he was strong. Sometimes, too, the Lord can use our WEAKNESSES and not just our talents to advance his Gospel. I learned this lesson very well in 8th grade CCD. Our teacher’s name was Mr. Mullin. He was a simple, humble guy who helped out a plumber. He himself could barely read. Sad to say, when my classmates and I were unruly 13-14 year-old adolescents, we used to make fun of him and his weaknesses. We used to joke with him that he was the “worst CCD teacher ever.” He used to smile, but deep-down inside, we wondered if we were hurting him. Each week, though, he would still come. Finally, sometime around Christmas, we asked him: “Why do you come each week to take such abuse from us?” He humbly paused and said, “My wife had read me the notice three times in the bulletin begging for a CCD teacher for the 8th graders. She was already a teacher. No one else was willing to come forward. I knew that I’d be a lousy teacher. Heck, I was a lousy student. But I just knew one thing: that Jesus is the most important person in the world, and I don’t care at all if I can’t read you the lessons, I don’t care if you make fun of me, as long as, at the end of the year, you realize, too, that Jesus is worth all of the suffering I’ve undergone this year, that he really is the most important person in the world and he loves you more than anyone.” That episode changed my life. And it was only because of Mr. Mullin’s weaknesses that we ever learned this lesson. You’ll find out that I, too, have many weaknesses — one of them is that I like to preach long homilies, so you’re going to have to pray for me to be able to cut them down!— but I pray that during my time here the Lord may use my weaknesses to bring you closer to him. I pray that if you have any weaknesses, he may use them to make me a better priest.

5) Today, on this Christian sabbath, the same Jesus who came to his own in Nazareth, comes here to Hyannis. 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 can make them leap for joy. Praised be Jesus Christ!