Where Did This Man Get All This?

B Proper 09 danWe are always surprised—sometimes even shocked—when someone acts out of character. A shy, quiet person might speak out forcefully, publicly against an injustice. A reserved, serious person might some night be the life of a party. A person without higher education reveals eloquence, insight, and brilliance on a challenging topic. Persons acting out of character shake up the expectations that limit our responses to others. Shockingly, in this Sunday’s gospel Jesus encounters resistance and rejection “among his own kin and in his own house.” This, because Jesus’ words and deeds went beyond his neighbors’ under­standing of who he was (“the carpenter”). Jesus was acting way out of character for them.

This gospel challenges us to examine the limits of our own expectations about who Jesus is and what he can do for us. It challenges us to examine our own expectations of others and allow them the space to be who God is helping them become. God continually offers us what we need for salvation, but we often resist it. Our receptivity is key for hearing God’s word and receiving the salvation God offers.

God’s interventions to bring us salvation are always extraordinary, but most often come in ordinary and familiar circumstances. For example, a neighbor brings some homemade soup to us when we are sick; parents share their faith with their children; someone notices we are having a rough day and takes time to sit and listen to us. Ordinary people acting in such ordinary ways reveal to us who Jesus is—the mighty Savior still present to us and among us.


Where Does A Prophet Have Honor?

It’s no doubt that one of the biggest fears of adolescents is rejection. Their need to be accepted drives the clothes they wear, the music they hear, the food they eat and the preposterous number of text messages they send every day. While most adults have learned that we must become our own person, we never quite lose our fear of rejection. It is a human drive to be accepted, respected and honored. Our Gospel shows us a Jesus who was also confronted with human rejection.
After the remarkable healing of a woman who had suffered for 12 years from hemorrhages and after the raising of the dead child of Jairus, Jesus goes home to Nazareth accompanied by his disciples. He teaches in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and the people are amazed both at his teaching and at the murmured accounts of the healings. For a moment or two it would appear that a warm celebration of “hometown boy makes good” is about to erupt. But not so. What is about to happen is rejection, the same kind of rejection that would dog his trail all the way to Good Friday. “He could do no mighty work there . . . because of their unbelief.”
Strange how “mighty work” and “belief” are so solidly linked. Strange how hardened hearts can cut even God off at the pass.
“Where did he get all of this?” “Whence all this ‘wisdom’?” The Nazarenes respond : “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon (and aren’t his sisters in the band at Hebrew High)?” So it went, and they took offense at him.
It’s easy enough to deal with this under the heading of “familiarity breeds contempt.” Jesus even invites that spin with his “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country.” Yet there is an issue here that runs much deeper and with greater, even devastating import. The issue is the scandal of the incarnation. It hounded Galilean hearts and minds then, as it hounds us now. “The word made flesh” is both our only salvation and the greatest bugaboo of modern piety.
Yes, by God! He was the carpenter. He was the brother of James and Simon. The grand wonder of the incarnation is that that is precisely how he gets to be your brother and mine. But downtown Nazareth was having none of that. And downtown Youngstown and downtown Chicago aren’t all that comfortable with it either. The mystery of the incarnation holds our greatest solace and comfort, namely that wherever we go in suffering, in hurt and sorrow and despair, God has gone there first, goes with us, shows up (!), and is glad to be there with us and for us.
It is amazing that the first great heresy in the church was not the denial of Christ’s divinity, but the denial of his full humanity..
The Gospels proclaim that God was his father, and he proclaimed that God is your father and mother too, and mine and everyone’s. When we begin to really believe that, when we seek God in the ordinary, daily wash of things and find God in nothing more complicated than each other and in God’s beautiful, dangerous, gorgeous creation, “mighty works” begin to happen. Works of mercy and compassion. Works of healing and commiseration. Works of forgiveness and understanding and of great laughter. Our faith commitment is best lived out in the simple, everyday opportunities to live as Jesus did that come our way. By surrendering to the everyday ways of dying to self for the good of others we live a life of faith and rise to God’s saving life.