by Fr. Tommy Lane
When you look at how people responded to God in the Old Testament the picture is pretty bleak. Very often they did not respond in faith to God’s word. Each time we see a faithless response on someone’s part to God’s word we also see that in the long term it brings its own punishment. It really doesn’t pay to go against God even if at the time it seems to be great fun. And we also see that it pains God when we do not respond to his word and reject it.
The faithless response to God began with the first couple. Eve disbelieved God and believed the serpent instead and ate the fruit of the tree. The punishment it brought on Adam and Eve was death instead of immortality and banishment from the Garden of Eden. Sin continued to grow so much that the world was full of wickedness. Only one family was good, Noah’s family, and they were saved from the flood. We see the pain the rejection of God’s word caused him; in Gen 6:6 we read, “God regretted having made man on the earth and his heart grieved.” It was like a new creation after the flood but once again sin began to increase and eventually people’s pride led to disaster, this time they were divided into different languages after the tower of Babel. Unfortunately this faithless response to God continues right through the Old Testament. You would think that after the Miracle of the Sea at the Exodus, as the people left Egypt on dry ground where the sea had been, they would respond in faith. But no, when the first trial came they complained and wanted to return to Egypt. Then when they entered Canaan, the Promised Land, after a while they began to ask for a king over them. It was a lack of trust in God’s leadership of them. Again this brought a punishment because with only a few exceptions most of the kings of Israel were not good leaders and their country sank lower all the time. God continually called prophets to speak his word to them but unfortunately only a handful listened to his prophets. It is no wonder that in the first reading today God called the Israelites a set of rebels (Ezek 2:5). A great punishment befell them, they were captured and taken as slaves to Babylon for about 50 years. They saw it as a punishment for sin. Yet there was always a remnant faithful to God.
That rejection of God’s word continues into the New Testament. Before Stephen was stoned to death he said to his listeners, “You stubborn people with your pagan hearts and pagan ears. You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do.” (Acts 7:51) As they stoned Stephen a young man named Saul watched. It would take a blinding light and revelation from heaven before Saul could accept the word of God. Luke 19:41 tells us that as Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time he cried because they did not recognize the time of their salvation. In the Gospel today (Mark 6:1-6) we see the people of Nazareth rejecting Jesus. They made up every excuse to reject him, they know his mother and they know his cousins. In the Gospel text it says they know his brothers James and Joset and Jude and Simon and his sisters but we understand this to mean his cousins. In the language of that time anyone in your clan would be called your brother (more info). Remember that since the early centuries of the Church we have believed that Mary was ever-Virgin. The people of Nazareth made up every excuse to reject Jesus, they know his mother and his cousins. It is sad but true that sometimes someone who has rejected the word of God will make up any excuse in order not to open his/her heart to God. Again in Nazareth the rejection of God brings a punishment; Jesus could work no miracle there, though he cured a few sick people. He was amazed at their lack of faith (Mark 6:5-6). Yet just as there was a faithful remnant in the Old Testament, we see examples of fidelity to Jesus in the New Testament. Above we think of Our Lady who was the first and perfect Christian. We think of those with her who stood by the cross as Jesus died and who therefore are models for us - John the Beloved Disciple and Mary Magdalene. Even though Peter and the other apostles left much to be desired in the Gospels, in Acts we see them witnessing to Jesus no matter what persecution it brought them and they too become models for us in Acts.
Despite the fidelity of some to God and the fidelity of some to Jesus, we see that there is an obvious independent streak in humanity, wanting to go it on our own without God. It is really an element of pride that is in humanity, thinking that we are God and forgetting that we are God’s creatures and not God. But the Bible teaches us that each time humanity tried to go it on its own without God we only hurt ourselves. It really doesn’t pay to go against God even if at the time it seems to be great fun. And we also see that it pains God when we do not respond to his word and we reject it. And what is sad is that very often it seems that people were actually blind to the fact that they were turning their backs on God. If they were blind to the fact that they were turning against God that begs the question, “Could we also be blind to the fact that we are in some way turning our backs on God?” I see our first reading (Ezek 2:2-5) and Gospel today (Mark 6:1-6) calling us to repentance. I think we could say that since the time of the flood there has never been a time with so much sin as our time. If we are proud we will say that we have no sins and we’re okay, but if we have humility we will see into the depths of our soul and recognize our poverty before God and our need of his redemption and salvation and healing. Jesus is always waiting to respond to us, to make us new and whole. Paul says in one of his letters that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). In Phil 2:5 Paul writes, “Make your own the mind of Christ Jesus.” In Nazareth Jesus could work no miracles because of their lack of faith. We pray for the grace to respond to God’s word in humility and lay aside our pride so that we may be numbered among the faithful like Our Lady, John the Beloved Disciple, Mary Magdalene and all the apostles so that unlike what happened in Nazareth Jesus can work miracles in our lives.
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2003
More homilies for the Fourteenth Sunday Year B
Related Homilies: Second Reading Carrying Our Cross after Jesus
Gospel: Commentary The Brothers and Sisters of Jesus