The Gospel reading today follows directly on from last Sunday’s account of Jesus reading from the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah in the synagogue of Nazareth. When he was finished he sat down and then with all eyes fixed on him he announced, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’ In other words he told them that he was the Messiah so long foretold. These words become the first line of our Gospel reading today.
Up to that point everyone in the synagogue was transfixed. As it says, ‘he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips.’ But the mood swiftly changes. Whoever it was who said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’ is not identified but suddenly the people turned against Jesus leading him to say, ‘I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.’
Jesus responds to their rejection by telling them that Elijah and Elisha were also sent to minister to non-Jews. In this way Jesus indicates that while his ministry will be largely among the Chosen People he also has a mission to the Gentiles. The people of Nazareth want to hear no more and so they hustle him away and attempt to push him over a cliff.
This return to his home town ends up as being spectacularly unsuccessful. The people initially welcome him but then because of his audacious claims they end up completely and utterly rejecting him. This is a pattern that will be seen again and again throughout Jesus’ public ministry and it is what will eventually lead to his death on the Cross of Calvary.
We don’t know who it was that pointed out that Jesus was the son of Joseph; but looking to many similar incidents throughout his travels in Palestine we can guess that it was probably one of the village elders or another man of authority. These were the people who had potentially the most to lose if Jesus did turn out to be the Messiah, especially when you consider that much of his teaching is about lifting up the poor and putting down the rich. These people of position and vested interest realise very quickly that in this Kingdom that Jesus preaches they will soon lose their power and wealth.
But this passage also shows us how fickle a crowd can be. Initially the people of Nazareth accept Jesus and then after a brief moment of reflection they are enraged and completely reject him. But, of course, if you are an active Christian in the world of today you will realise that this is something that you have already experienced. Some people just do not want to hear about the Lord and they get awkward and angry if the subject of religion is raised with them.
If you present yourself in an obvious way as a Christian some people will immediately pick a fight with you. This has occasionally happened to me when wearing a clerical collar on a train or a bus. Certain people are keen to get into an argument and trot out a lot of half-baked theories attempting to prove that Christianity is just plain wrong or on other occasions they attack you personally and try to make you out to be some sort of hypocrite.
We shouldn’t be upset when this sort of thing happens to us, Jesus himself warned his disciples that this type of thing, and much worse, would inevitably happen to them. Actually, when we are attacked like this we should regard it as a badge of honour.
It is a good rule of thumb to take into account the first reading when we are considering the Gospel text. Often it can shed a bit more light on things. In the synagogue of Nazareth Jesus revealed himself to be the Messiah, in the first reading the Prophet Jeremiah tells us how he was called to the ministry of prophet. He tells us that it was revealed to him that he had been chosen for this great task even before he was born.
We ought to relate these two important callings, that of Jesus and that of the Prophet Jeremiah, to our own particular calling. Because, make no mistake about it, we have been called. Each one of us has been given a mission, each one of us has been given a task by the Lord. And our task is to spread the Good News, to be Evangelists in the world, to be Apostles in this present age.
To be a Christian and not to have brought other people to faith can be considered to be something of a failure. However, don’t feel that I am damning you if your children have rejected the faith or if you have never managed to convince anyone else of the truths of the Gospel.
We know that our first task as parents is to transmit the faith to our children. We understand that this means explaining to them the truths of the Gospel, it also means living lives in accordance with God’s laws in order to give them good example. And it importantly it also means praying with them and so heling them to develop a personal relationship with the Lord. But we cannot force the faith upon them. Ultimately it is their own free choice whether to accept the Gospel or not.
Also, in relation to people at work or among our acquaintances we probably would feel uncomfortable giving them the hard-sell about faith. We need to remember that we are Catholics and not Jehovah’s Witnesses who cannot talk about anything else other than their strange doctrines.
Some people are better qualified to be Evangelists than others and maybe most of us don’t think that we have the necessary gifts to be persuasive in a public way. But there is such a thing as pre-Evangelisation, what this involves is preparing the ground to that at the opportune moment a person can be brought to faith. Pre-Evangelisation is something subtle, it means talking and discussing things with other people in such a way that our faith is evident to them even though we don’t talk about it directly.
What pre-Evangelisation does is help the other person to realise that some of the positions and views that they hold are not incompatible with the faith, it helps them to realise that faith is possible and credible, it helps them to open up to Christianity.
Pre-Evangelisation is something that we can all do. To give an example, it might be that because of stances we take at work we are known to be people of integrity and honesty; our colleagues might then realise that the reason why we are like this is because of our Catholic faith. This may cause them to view the faith in a more favourable light.
So if we can’t all be Evangelisers we can at least concern ourselves with pre-Evangelisation, we can prepare the ground so that at the opportune moment God can do his work and lead our friends and colleagues to faith in Christ and in his Gospel of love.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket