Accepting the freedom of Jesus
Posted: Thu, 01 Jul 2021 15:35
Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB asks us to accept the freedom offered to us by Jesus, the son of God incarnated as the carpenter from Nazareth, as he reflects on the Gospel for 14th Sunday of Year B. Image: Jesus the Carpenter by Marcello Cerrato, via qumran 2.net.
On this day of US Independence, our Gospel brings Jesus back home to Nazareth. Across the pond, I hope that, pandemic protocols allowing, my family will be able to gather at home for the traditional family cookout and baseball match. This past year has been so hard for those unable to 'go home' and visit loved ones—there is something very special about going home. When we are at home, we feel content and safe: we meet up with loved ones, family and friends; they give us confidence and permission to reminisce and share our stories.
Sadly, in our gospel today, Jesus does not 'feel the love' as he returns to Nazareth. It seems clear that Jesus has moved away—Capernaum is much better place to live and work from, as Nazareth was seen as the sleepy backwater. Jesus brings his new friends with him, as he continues his peripatetic ministry across Palestine. True to form, they go to the synagogue and Jesus preaches in there. It is now that we see the reality of the incarnation: 'Isn't he the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? Aren't his sisters living here?' (Mk 6:3). How could this man, the carpenter from their very own village, do these great and miraculous things? They put Jesus into a context that we rarely think about: he has a mother, he has brothers and sisters—a family that live, work, shop, eat, drink and play in their own village. These people in the synagogue grew up with him and, perhaps, knew him too well.
One of my favourite spots in Nazareth is the basilica of 'Jesus the Adolescent', situated on the hills overlooking the town. I like to imagine that Jesus played in these hills with his friends—the very ones who are critical of him in today's Gospel. The church is a beautiful and peaceful oasis in this bustling pilgrimage town, but what helps to make it so real is that there is a large Salesian school attached to the basilica, offering quality education to the local Palestinian community. As you pray in the simple grandeur, eyes fixed on a rare statue of Jesus as a teenager, you can hear the fun and laughter of the young people playing basketball next door.
As the people of USA celebrate their Independence Day today, we remember that Jesus called us all to enjoy the freedom, as daughters and sons of a loving God: I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness (Jn 10:10). All peoples of the world need to celebrate their freedom and individuality—nothing should keep us from living our lives to the full. The freedom that Jesus wants to share with his friends back at home is rejected by them: Jesus cannot work any miracles there, although a few were cured. However, as a result of their failure to respond, 'He was greatly surprised, because the people did not have faith' (Mk 6:6). The people of Nazareth are too close to respond with a loving trust in Jesus. We can now see the essence of our faith: we are called into a loving relationship with God. If we lack that trust and free response, then miracles simply cannot happen in our lives.
Today reminds us of the power of incarnation; it was easier for the people of Nazareth to have a faith in a distant God, than a friend walking among them. The theologian, Michael Spencer makes a valid point:
... without the incarnation, Christianity isn't even a very good story, and most sadly, it means nothing. "Be nice to one another" is not a message that can give my life meaning, assure me of love beyond brokenness, and break open the dark doors of death with the key of hope. The incarnation is an essential part of Jesus-shaped spirituality.
Michael Spencer: Mere Churchianity - Finding your way back to Jesus-shaped spirituality, 2010
Faith does make demands, as the disciples discovered during the events of Holy Week. For real miracles to happen in our own lives, we must share that unconditional hospitality that Jesus practices and that we see in the miracles of multiplication and reconciliation. The inhabitants of Nazareth might well welcome a rabbi or teacher from distant Jerusalem, but they could not extend their hospitality to one they knew so well.
God is to be found in your homes this day: while it is wonderful to go on pilgrimage to Walsingham or Rome, we still have to come home and face the reality of incarnation in our own lives. We have to live out the challenges that following Jesus present us with; we have to be true to that final prayer of the mass today: 'go in peace to LOVE and SERVE the Lord!'
There will always be times when our faith is tested and this past year has proved that—our response is a call to trust. Disney's 'Prince of Egypt' is a powerful re-telling of the story of Moses—it is a tale of faith and trust. A favourite song from the show is 'Deliver Us'; it speaks of the cry of the chosen people to find their true liberty—a freedom that the people of USA are celebrating today. As this opening song proclaims:
With the sting of the whip on my shoulder
With the salt of my sweat on my brow
Elohim, God on high, can you hear your people cry?
Help us now
This dark hour
Hear our call, deliver us
Lord of all, remember us here in this burning sand
There's a land You promised us
Deliver us to the Promised Land
Today is an invitation to come down from the Mount of Transfiguration and live our lives, with Jesus, to the full.
May you recognise in your life the presence, power, and light of your soul. May you realise that you are never alone, that your soul in its brightness and belonging connects you intimately with the rhythm of the universe. May you have respect for your own individuality and difference.
John O'Donohue 'Anam Cara'