During the liturgical season of Ordinary Time we travel with the Apostles as Jesus is schooling them. We sit with them at the feet of Jesus as He reveals divine truth through both His parables and through His miracles.
Two weeks ago we heard the account of Jesus calming the terrible storm as they were on the boat. The Apostles were astonished, and wondered just who Jesus was, He who could command the sea and wind. Last weekend we heard of how Jesus healed the woman with the hemorrhage, and even raised Jarius’ daughter who had died. Again, Jesus performed great and marvelous deeds.
So what’s happening this week? Jesus returns home, but “He was not able to perform any mighty deed there.” Why not? I am sure that the people of Nazareth had heard all the stories of Jesus’ miracles and were eager to see some for themselves. So why couldn’t Jesus perform any miracles among his own neighbors and relatives, aside from healing a few of the sick?
Quite simply it was because they failed to see the Divine Presence among them. They did not see Jesus as one sent by God, let alone the Word of God made flesh. They could only see the human level; that He was the little boy who grew up among them. They probably remembered Mary, His mother, bringing him to the local market as a toddler when she did the shopping. They could still see him helping His father Joseph, the local carpenter. Now He had disciples? Now He presumed to teach them about God? As today’s Gospel reading says, “They took offense at Him,” and Jesus was amazed, and mostly likely sadden, by their lack of faith.
Faith. One of the most commonly used words in any discussion of religion, but do we really know what Faith is? The Glossary at the back of the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines faith as “Both a gift of God and a human act by which the believer gives personal adherence to God who invites his response, and freely assents to the whole truth that God has revealed” (CCC, p. 878). Faith is a gift in that God, the Creator of all, reveals Himself to us because He wants us to know and love Him. Like any gift, Faith must be received; we respond to God’s revelation by saying “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are God, that you are All Good and only want the very best for me.” This is what it means to make an act of faith. To accept God in this way means we must obey His every word and to conform ourselves to Him, even in the tiniest details, in a spirit of abandonment. It only makes sense, that if we accept that God is all Good and all powerful, then He knows what is best for us, so why wouldn’t we do all that He wills for us – it is for our best, or as Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospel, “so that we might have life, life to the full.”
All of this sounds simple, and God intends it to be, yet we seem to mess it up so very often. Like the people of Nazareth, we can get too focused on the merely material and the merely human level of life, and fail to see the Divine Presence among us. Too often we put our own will ahead of God’s, like we know better than God what is best for us. How often do we try to make God small, so that we can fit Him into the nice little box we have made for Him? We give God maybe an hour a week, and from all the people who sneak out of church right after Communion, it seems as if too many of us do not want to give God even that little. God, who should be the top priority, the center, in the life of the Christian is too often relegated to the third, fourth, fifth, maybe even one hundredth place in our lives.
“Rejecting any part of Christ’s message is a rejection of his Person. St. Thomas Aquinas said that the opposite of faith is not atheism, but disobedience to God, because if we are not willing to do what he says, we must be dethroning him in our own petty and useless way, trying to take his place” (C. Ermatinger, Sacerdos Homilies: Cycle B, June-July 2006, p. 25). Not only does this mean that we cannot pick and choose which moral teachings of Christ, transmitted to us through His Church, we will follow, but we also cannot pick and choose what we believe about Jesus. Yes, He did take on our human nature and He wants to be our brother and friend, yet He is first and foremost God, our Lord and Savior. We should never forget about His divinity by getting too focused on His humanity, as did the people at Nazareth in today’s Gospel.
Having faith in Jesus, all of Him and all of His teaching, leads us to true freedom. St. Paul talks about that in today’s second reading. The great St. Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, had struggles, and like most of us, he prayed that God would just take them away. However God revealed to him that “power is made perfect in weakness.” It was St. Paul’s faith in God, his total adherence to Christ Jesus, that allowed him to know that God’s grace was enough. God’s grace is not just enough for St. Paul, but it is enough for all of us, no matter what form that thorn of the flesh takes in our lives. We are all called to be saints; why do so many of us find it so difficult to believe that we can be saints? We must let the love of Christ transform us. We must let Him perform mighty deeds in our lives. All it takes is Faith.