We don’t often observe Jesus being disempowered and perhaps this is the only incident of this kind we find in the Gospels. It seems that because of the people’s lack of faith he could perform no miracle in his own home town. This is surprising because we usually think of Jesus as being all-powerful and capable of doing anything.
But actually, if we look at the text closely we see the words, ‘he could work no miracle there, though he cured a few sick people by laying his hands on them.’ These words appear to contradict themselves because if a healing is not a miracle then you would be forced to wonder what is.
I suppose that St Mark means that Jesus could not or was not inclined to perform any great miracle in Nazareth such as feeding the five thousand or walking on water. Perhaps knowing that Jesus healed people wherever he went St Mark just took those healings for granted, even though to the recipients they must have been entirely life changing.
Of course, must also realise that personal faith is very much involved in the making of a miracle. Yes, Jesus can perform whatever wonders he wishes, but he usually only performs a miracle when faith is present. We might often be tempted to think that Jesus rewards faith with miracles, so frequently do we hear him saying such things as, ‘your faith has healed you’ as we did in last Sunday’s Gospel in the case of the Woman with the Haemorrhage.
Faith is always an important element in any miracle, it has to be. We cannot envisage Jesus healing someone who had outright rejected him. Of course, many times a particular individual may not have a very great amount of faith, but Jesus often chooses to reward the person all the same.
Faith, of course, is what Jesus is all about. He comes to help us to believe in God, he comes to teach us and to help us deepen and strengthen whatever small amount of faith we have. He wants us to be less preoccupied with ourselves and to become ever more open to the hidden spiritual world.
Jesus wants to enlarge our horizons and to open us up to the way the universe really is. He wants to help us to realise that the most important dimension of all is the spiritual one. He wants us to realise that the physical world we inhabit is negligible in comparison to those things which belong to the spiritual realm.
This is what gives Christians a roundness and a fullness to their lives. By acknowledging that creation has its very roots in God and in the spiritual we see everything with very different eyes to those living around us. We see God’s hand at work in the world. We do not attribute the things that happen in life to good luck or bad luck; no, we attribute them to the will of God. We see God’s involvement in every detail of our lives.
As you know, I recently spent a month in hospital. It was a great learning experience for me. One interesting thing was that although nobody mentioned God there was a great acceptance of suffering by the other patients. Also their sufferings seemed to bring out a great goodness in them and it was wonderful to notice how kind the patients were to each other and how grateful they were to the nurses and doctors.
Perhaps none of those patients believed they had very much faith and perhaps none of them even had the vocabulary to talk about God, but yet I saw faith in abundance. It was evident in the small kindnesses they performed for one another and the encouragement that was always on offer.
We should see the rejection of Jesus by the people of Nazareth in its historical context. In the course of history God sent many prophets to guide and instruct his Chosen People but, with some notable exceptions, these prophets were mostly ignored or rejected.
We see from our first reading that Ezekiel was sent to the People of Israel to prophesy that their bad behaviour and rebellion against God was going to bring about the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the whole nation. The people did not listen and his prophesy was inevitably fulfilled when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and enslaved the people.
Like his contemporary Jeremiah, Ezekiel’s message was not popular and while the people acknowledged that he was indeed a powerful prophet they ultimately chose to reject his message. We can see the parallel with the reaction of the people of Nazareth, and indeed with the religious authorities of Israel, to Jesus when they fail to recognise that he is the ultimate prophet and the definitive emissary of God.
This account of Jesus in the Synagogue of Nazareth is common to all three of the Synoptic Gospels and there are many similarities between them. However, the versions given in Mark and Matthew are rather brief and it is left to Luke to give a longer and more detailed account.
In Luke we are given the passage from Isaiah that Jesus read to the people; and also unique to Luke is the passage about them trying to push him over a cliff and how he slipped through the crowd and quickly disappeared.
The choice that faced the people of Nazareth is the very same choice that faces us; it is whether we choose to accept Jesus or to reject him, whether to have faith in him or not. This is what theologians call the fundamental choice; the choice to act like a Christian or to go our own way.
Especially in our own day the forces of the media and society in general are pressurising us to go our own way. We are being inveigled into a secular mentality which completely ignores the spiritual side of life. We are being gradually channelled into a mentality which is centred around looking after ourselves and ignoring everything else. We are being pushed into accepting a philosophy of materialism and consequently we are led to reject our Christian faith.
Jesus did not come to threaten the people of Nazareth, he came to warn them of the consequences of sin and to reveal himself as the Messiah, the one true Saviour of the World. Because they had known him since boyhood and had not before discerned anything special about him they decide to reject Jesus and his message. They fail to see below the surface; they only notice the superficialities; they do not recognise that Jesus brings a message of hope and salvation.
We must ensure that we do not make the same mistake. We need to see Jesus for who he really is. We need to recognise him as the Son of God, our Saviour and Redeemer, the only one who can bring us to a fuller and indeed to an eternal life.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket