As the Lord spoke to me, the spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard the one who was speaking say to me: "Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day. Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you. But you shall say to them: "Thus says the Lord God!" And whether they heed or resist - for they are a rebellious house - they shall know that a prophet has been among them."(P) The word of the Lord.
To you I lift up my eyes who are enthroned in heaven - as the eyes of servants are on the hands of their masters. (R)
As the eyes of maid are on the hands of her mistress, so are our eyes on the Lord, our God, till He has pity on us. (R)
Have pity on us, O Lord, have pity on us, for we are more than sated with contempt; our souls are more than sated with the mockery of the arrogant, with the contempt of the proud. (R)
Brothers and sisters: That I, Paul, might not become too elated, because of the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.
Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands? Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Jones and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house." So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
Today's gospel is an uninterrupted continuation of last week's gospel. It begins with saying "Jesus departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples", Mark (6:1). The word "there" in the verse refers to Capernaum. According to all four of the gospel narratives - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - Capernaum was the home of five disciples - John, James, Simon, Andrew and Matthew - and the temporary home of Jesus during His public ministry. It overlooks the Sea of Galilee, near to the place where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus taught and performed many healing miracles at Capernaum.
In last week's gospel, we read two such accounts - the healing of the unnamed woman suffering from haemorrhage and the raising to life of a young girl who we learned was feared dead. The girl was the daughter of Jairus, a leader in the synagogue at Capernaum, Mark (5:21-43). In addition to these two miracles, and as mentioned in the earlier chapters, Mark also reports of Jesus driving out an evil spirit from a possessed man in Capernaum, Mark (1:21-28); the curing of Simon's mother-in-law who was ill with a high fever, Mark (1:29-31); the healing of a man with leprosy, Mark (1:42-45) and of a paralytic, Mark (2:1-12); the casting out of the demons from the demoniac among the tombs, Mark (5:1-20) etc.
In today's gospel, we read that Jesus went from there to His native place, Nazareth, which is about 30 kilometres away. During his stay in Nazareth, and on the Sabbath day, Jesus went to the synagogue. A synagogue was an important place for the Jews in the time of Jesus. It was a place where Jews gathered for worship and for study of the Scriptures. Any synagogue service includes:
The custom was that an elder of the congregation or a rabbi would be invited to read a scriptural text and interpret it for others. This was the case with Jesus' synagogue appearance in Nazareth. Jesus was already being called a "Rabbi" by his disciples, John (1:38; 1:49; 3:26). But when Jesus spoke, many people were astonished. However, Mark does not mention what Jesus spoke about. He only records that the people asked, "Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hand?" No doubt, some of you might wonder what Jesus said or did that astonished the listeners.
In the parallel account we read what Jesus had taught on that day, Luke (4:14-29). As Jesus attended the service, He was given the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah (61). Having unrolled the scroll, He read, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me, to bring good news to the poor; to proclaim liberty to captives; and new sight to the blind; to free the oppressed; and to announce the Lord's year of mercy", Luke (18-19). Jesus then gave the scroll back to the attendant and said, "Today, these prophetic words come true as you listen", Luke (21).
This was a startling statement for Jesus to make. It is as if Jesus was saying, "I am the person here spoken of and, at this present time, the Spirit of God is upon me and has anointed me to preach glad tidings to you and all the good things mentioned in the Scripture". According to Luke's account, the people were astonished by how well Jesus spoke. They praised Jesus's words of wisdom and the mighty works of miracles that were coming through him.
What miracles were they amazed about? In fact, no miracles took place on this particular day in Nazareth. They had probably heard of the miracles that occurred in Capernaum and around the Sea of Galilee. However, they were furious at Jesus' claim to be the Messiah about whom Isaiah had prophesied. Besides, when Jesus preached, He did so "as one who had authority, not as the Scribes or teachers of the law", Mark (1:22). In other words, the people of Nazareth may have acknowledged that the words quoted from the prophet Isaiah were spoken of the Messiah but, they would not believe that Jesus had any credentials to prove that He was the Messiah. And they found Jesus' claim scandalous because Jesus was not distinguished in riches, learning, rank or power. They were expecting the Messiah to come with pomp and ceremony as would a great king and deliver Israel from the Romans' slavery.
Jesus came to Nazareth proclaiming a message of salvation and showing acts of mercy but the people altogether wrangled on points so trivial and unessential. They referred to Jesus as "the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon", Mark (6:3). Remember, the people in his hometown were his family, friends and neighbours. "Too much familiarity breeds contempt", as the saying goes. Perhaps, the people of Nazareth were just too familiar with Jesus and they took offense at Jesus' humble birth. They made the indigent circumstances of Jesus' family the reason why they would not receive him as a prophet and the Messiah, although they were amazed at his wisdom and at his miracles. They were too proud to be taught by one of their own whom they took to be their equal or an inferior. They saw Jesus only as the carpenter, not the Messiah. They could not accept that someone who was born of a modest household was worthy to be so highly educated in the scriptures.
Jesus, knowing their hearts were not open to the testimony of the scriptures, said to them, "A prophet is not without honour except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house". He was not upset that his own town rejected Him because this was the first of what would be the many rejections during His earthly ministry. As a matter of fact, Mark writes that when Jesus began His ministry and his relatives heard about it, they accused Him of having gone mad: acting on that belief, they tried to take charge of Him as if He did not know what He was doing, Mark (3:21).
When Jesus said that the only place people do not honour a prophet is in his home town, he obviously pointed to their prolonged experience of unbelief and indifference to God, to His message and to His servants, the prophets, as sent by God to call Israel to repentance and renewal of their covenant with God, 2 Kings (17:13); Jeremiah (7:25; 26:5). As a result of their rejection, Jesus was not able to perform any mighty miracles among them except to heal a few sick people by placing his hands on them. Jesus "was not able to work any mighty miracles" does not mean a restriction on His power, Mark (6:5). It was just that their unbelief kept Jesus from doing all that He could. At the gospel's closing, Mark writes that Jesus was "amazed at their lack of faith."
The gospels tell us that the people were constantly astonished and amazed at Jesus' teaching and works. However, there are only two recorded instances of Jesus being amazed. One case was in Capernaum. According to the gospel accounts of a Roman centurion came to Jesus and implored Him on behalf of one of his servants who was ill, Luke (7:1-10); Matthew (8:5-13). When Jesus offered to go to the centurion's house to perform the healing, the centurion told Jesus that he felt unworthy to receive Him under his roof or come into his home and that, if he just spoke the word of healing, his servant would get well. On hearing these words, Jesus was amazed and said to those following Him, "I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith", Luke (7:9).
Today, we are using the words of the centurion, when we prepare to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Mass. The other occasion was in his hometown, Nazareth, as we read today: Jesus was filled with wonder at the total lack of faith in Him among His fellow Jews, who had been waiting for the Messiah. The non-Jew centurion's faith stood in contrast to the lack of faith of the Jews.
What is the message for us?
Jesus is not physically present with us today. Nonetheless, His representatives such as our Pope, bishops, priests, ministers, monks, nuns and lay preachers are here: through them, Christ continues to spread His message of salvation. They are the modern-day prophets and messengers of God. But, we often reject God and His Word and His purposes for ourselves, by rejecting His prophet-messengers. In spite of the message of truth, love, compassion and justice that they bring, we have a tremendous tendency to reject the message as coming from God and thus having authority because of the imperfect character, weaknesses and flaws of such messengers. We also use various other excuses such as language, place, skin colour, social status, intelligence, mannerism etc. to dismiss these divine messengers.
There have been instances where people have been sent to their own native places as prophets sent by God but are rejected by their own people. By one means or another, the swiftest method of rejection of the prophets has been to find a pretext, however false or absurd, that dismisses the person so that his or her message could also be dismissed. The trouble with rejection, because of personal familiarity with the prophets, is that the prophets are always somebody's son or daughter or somebody's neighbour. They are chosen from among us, not transported from another planet.
There are times, some of us behave like the people of Nazareth and place ourselves between the messengers and the message, doing our utmost to make the message of God ineffective. Our character and prospects are similar to those of the Jews, who could not experience great miracles because of unbelief. Self-sufficiency, self-importance, arrogance, apathy, pride, prejudice, indifference, etc. separate us from God, and therefore, He hides His face from us; He has limited His work in us. Our hearts are sometimes as hard and impenetrable as those present in the time of Christ, because we are ignorant of that which we condemn and oppose.
The Lord Jesus says, "Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me; and he who rejects me, rejects the one who sent me", Luke (10:16). He also says, "Look, I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my call, and open the door, I will come in to you, and have supper with you, and you, with me", Revelation (3:20). If we refuse to hear the voice of God and refuse to open the door, then our Lord Jesus Christ will move on, and we will be left destitute of His presence and of true riches. Let us assume the counsel given here applies to us today. Let us seek the counsel of God and harken to those we acknowledge as prophets with a humble and prayerful spirit, so that the Lord may enlighten our understanding and enable us to carefully weigh every point of truth that is presented in Scripture and truly believe in Him.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!