July 9, 2006
Today’s Gospel is strangely disturbing, but it also carries a thread of consolation. This passage from Mark’s gospel is the only passage in the gospels where Jesus is said to be unable to act. The text is very clear about this. It says that Jesus was unable to perform any deed of power, so distressed was he by lack of faith. We believe that Jesus has the power of God, so how is it possible that he is rendered helpless?
Although we could spend hours discussing why Jesus was unable to act, it is more useful to ask what does this strange impotence of Jesus have to do with us? For we believe that all the passages of the scriptures not only tell us about Jesus, but also apply to our lives. So what does Jesus’ inability to act mean to us? The answer to that question can be found when we realize where it is that this scene takes place. It was in Jesus’ own hometown. He had no problem doing deeds of power in Capernaum or at the Sea of Galilee, but when he came to Nazareth he was helpless. He could wow the crowds in Jerusalem, but when he came to his own town, he was too local to be taken seriously. This rejection of Jesus in Nazareth points to a truth in our lives: sometimes it is the people who are closest to us who do not understand us and will not support us.
This painful truth is a part of the human condition. It is proverbial. In fact, Jesus cites a proverb in the gospel. He says, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their own hometown, among their own kin, and in their own house.” How painful it is to have our gifts and talents accepted by many, but not accepted by those who are closest to us. How hurtful it is to wait for the approval of a mother, father, or grandparent; to wait for the acceptance of a brother or sister, and yet, never have that acceptance or that approval come. How debilitating it is when we find that those we are related to by blood or by marriage do not accept us. Instead they are jealous of us, dismissive of us, or even manipulate us. We usually can overcome rejection by a stranger or by those with whom we only have a business relationship. But when it comes to rejection by family that rejection cuts deep.
This is the disturbing truth of today’s gospel. But in this scene there is also a thread of consolation. If Jesus himself was unable to avoid rejection by those who were closest to him, then why should we be surprised if such rejection happens in our life? If Jesus who was Son of God nevertheless found himself helpless when his family refused to accept him, then certainly he will know our pain if we are denied acceptance.
It hurts deeply when those closest to us refuse to love us. Jesus endured that hurt. He also showed us how to respond to it. The last line of the gospel says, “Jesus made his rounds of the neighboring villages and continued to teach.” When he was rejected in Nazareth, Jesus did not let that rejection undermine his identity or value. He did not reject his calling. He did not wrap himself in self-pity. He moved on. He moved on to the neighboring villages and there continued to teach to those who would listen and to those who would respond. In the same way if we were to experience rejection by those who are closest to us, we too are called to move on. We cannot make anyone love us, but we can refuse to allow rejection to dictate our future. We still have gifts to give. We still have people to love. We must believe that our gifts and love are real. So if the people who are closest to you all support you, be thankful. That is a tremendous gift. But if you find there is someone close who will not extend love to you, follow the example of Jesus. Move on. Give your gifts to those who will receive them. Share you love with those who will respond to it. Believe that there still is life and love to be found, even if it is not in your own hometown.