Faith Makes it So – July 8, 2012 -Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
FAITH MAKES IT SO – Mark 6:1-6
July 8, 2012
Is not Mary his mother? The Messiah ought, like Melchizedek, just appear.
Where does such wisdom come from? Solomon alone would speak so wisely.
How does Jesus work such marvelous cures? Only Moses could engineer feats to worry the Pharaoh.
Is Jesus not a carpenter whose family we know? Joseph could frame a door; that would have been this man’s father.
Jesus could not be a great one, for He comes from our own small village. His very ordinariness assures that we know Jesus and that he belongs in Nazareth, a place like other little gathering spots, a place so common as to preclude anyone’s distinction. Jesus is one of us; we shall not believe Him to be extraordinary.
Because the town’s people lack faith, Jesus does no mighty works there. Because there is no openness to the power of God, because preconceptions cause people to stumble over God working among them, because miracles are denied and because no one can become a disciple in such hostility, then and therefore Jesus will not effect a work of power, for such a work should arouse faith in Jesus and bring about a new relation with God. The villagers and, indeed, the family members of Jesus will not accept that the Son of Man has arisen among them. They refuse to recognize their great moment.
The villagers of Nazareth contrast with the villagers in a theatrical piece by Thornton Wilder, a play entitled Our Town. It received a Pulitzer Prize when published in 1938, although it was set in the first year of the twentieth century, some five years before the first Ford auto appeared on the street of Grover’s Corners, a fictional town in New Hampshire. The play offers a snapshot of the most touching aspects of life in a small town.
The stage manager speaks directly to the audience. He tells of life in the village, with a doctor, a newspaper editor, a school, several churches. [William Jennings] Bryan once gave a speech in that town. Early in the play, the stage manager tells the audience this: “Nobody very remarkable ever come out of [Our Town] s’far as we know.” Emily and George marry, and then Emily dies in childbirth.
The American play contrasts importantly with Nazareth, for in Our Town the ghost of Emily returns for a day, and the ghost occupies the entire third act. So the audience realizes that Grover’s Corners matters to people living there; the cemetery dead affect the town.
Nazareth, however, fails to recognize its great moment. Someone very remarkable does come, and the people of Nazareth fail to recognize Him. When Jesus enters the synagogue, he at first astonishes the people by his teaching. In the synagogue, Jesus has cast out a demon (1:23-28), and he cures a man with a withered hand (3:1-6); so Jesus has continued over time his public work of proclamation and of exorcising. But now the listeners question the source of Jesus’ wisdom, and they toss aside his teaching as being too near them. We hear a note of jealousy in their questioning as they seek to identify Jesus. In their asking, some belittling occurs, for these disparage Jesus with relatives whom the villagers know.
Astonishment turns to scandal. If at first Jesus causes listeners to marvel at His religious teaching, now scandal follows, for they reject such speech as if it contains more boast of self than of heavenly wisdom. In a village culture such as that of first-century Nazareth, to stand out from one’s family was shameful for the entire family; and the villagers know the family. These people judge the person whom they know; they refuse to understand the wisdom in His speech. Jesus applies to himself a known aphorism: “No prophet is without honor except in his home town, among his own relatives, and in his own home.”
St. Paul met a similar refusal in Athens when he speaks to the philosophers in the Areopagus. “He said, ‘You Athenians, I see that in every respect you are very religious. For as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines, I even discovered an altar inscribed, ‘To an unknown God.’” Then Paul tells his listeners of God who has created heaven and earth, who does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands nor is served by human hands. The Athenians listen. But then Paul tells of Jesus Christ, of Him whom the Father has raised from the dead. “When they heard about resurrection of the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, ‘We should like to hear you on this some other time.’ And so Paul left them” (Acts of Apostles 17:22-33). These Athenians are in no mood to hear about Jesus; they give Paul no further ear. The Nazarenes, too, suffer the deafness of white stone.
Jesus is shocked at their unbelief! When stretcher bearers open a hole in the roof so that they can lower a paralytic on a stretcher, they witness Jesus curing the paralytic, and the crowd is “all astounded and glorifies God” (Mark 2:12). Here in contrast, Jesus reacts to Nazareth’s refusal of faith. He sees the stark contrast between belief and unbelief, and the divide separating understanding from lack of understanding. The citizens of Nazareth shock Jesus, for they blaspheme in their misuse of human freedom; they close themselves to God, deliberately shutting themselves from the action of their Creator.
We pray that we may be open to God, that the grace of Christ effect in us a recognition of God among us. Amen.