In this excellent homily for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Father Hanly helps us understand why the people of Nazareth did not recognise Jesus as the Messiah and rejected him.
Readings for Mass
First Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15-17
Second Reading: First Corinthians 12:31–13:13 or 13:4-13
Gospel: Luke 4:21-30
Recording of Gospel
Recording of Homily
Transcript of Homily
Early in his public life, Jesus went through Galilee, spoke in many towns and villages, and received a wonderful reception. And the expectations of the people began to grow that perhaps this was the long awaited Messiah, the Anointed One, who would come and inaugurate the Kingdom of God, the realm of God, among them. And so it was that his reputation reached the place where he lived in Nazareth.
Now Nazareth was not the place of Jesus’ birth, which was Bethlehem, but it was where he grew up and where Mary conceived him, because the Annunciation took place in Nazareth where Mary and Joseph lived. And so it is that the people of Nazareth knew Jesus very well. They saw him as a baby, they saw him as a child, they saw him as a young man, and they saw him as a carpenter, the son of Joseph the carpenter. And it was to here Jesus returns.
Now when he entered the synagogue, as we remember last week, he entered the synagogue and already his reputation went before him so he was given the privilege of reading the scripture for that day.
And the one in charge of the synagogue handed him the scrolls on which were the word of God and he turned to the scroll of Isaiah the prophet, written 750 years before the coming of the Messiah.
After he’d read the scroll, and I’d like to read you just a little bit of that so you can get an idea of the great drama of that moment:
He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
And that was what he had read and everybody knew it was a Messianic text. And so then he sat down and everybody watched him. As it says here:
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down,
and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
He said to them,
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
What an incredible moment for them all, because they had prayed for a thousand years and more for the coming of the Messiah. And their expectations were very high. And because their hopes were high, they began to feel drawn to Jesus in a special way.
And then they began to murmur, however, “No, this can’t be the Messiah. We know his father, Joseph. He grew up with us. We know we saw him when he fell down and hurt himself, when he went crying to his mother, when he was sick, when he was perhaps maybe too arrogant sometimes and maybe not humble enough with his superiors other times. We’ve heard rumours of certain things, but he was just an ordinary child who became an ordinary teenager and an ordinary man. And what did he do? He was a carpenter. Can this be the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, the one that we were praying and hoping for?” And so doubt set in.
And then Jesus understood them. He knew that they were his people. He said, “Yes, it is true. Even the prophets were not accepted in their own town.”
The first thing we do is we ask, “Why is this?”
Well, the reason why is maybe we’re too familiar with the people we know and it would be very hard to project a person among the people we know as someone who are calling themselves the Holy One of God, the Anointed One of God. And so they couldn’t accept him.
There’s another reason, though, why they couldn’t accept him. You see, we can have great expectations and expectations must breed faith. And then it all changes. For you can have high expectations and dance and sing with the hope, but when someone comes and lays claim to that hope, then we have another problem, and that problem is you have to believe. Not believe as an interesting point of afternoon talk, but you have to give your whole life in faith.
And Jesus knew that. And he knew the opposition would come. And he knew that his own family, his own friends, his own Nazareth, the people of Nazareth, would have to rise to give their lives to the little boy who was born in Bethlehem, and just a little child like any ordinary child, a young man like any ordinary young man. And this is who stood before them.
Faith really demands a lot more than we ourselves give credit for. We keep saying, “Oh, I have faith in this,” and “I have faith in that,” or “I have faith in you.” That’s a good one: “I have faith in you.” But we really don’t have that much faith. It’s kind of like parcelled out like spoons of sugar to make the coffee taste better.
But the faith that Jesus is talking about here and now, and always spoke about, is something much, much deeper. I don’t know if you remember the story of the…
The story goes back to many, many years ago. Well, not too long ago. I was born and raised, a young man at the time. But the Niagara Falls, everybody has heard of the Niagara Falls, the huge falls where tons and tons of water pours over the rocks between Canada and New York and falls deadly into the sea.
Well, this was a place where all the honeymooners used to go and, of course, one of the features was to see the daredevils. Now there were different kinds of daredevils. Some would try to go over the falls in a barrel and that was interesting. Sometimes the barrel broke on the rocks beneath it and it was no longer interesting, but the death of one of the men who tried it.
But then there were those, the tightrope walkers. The tightrope walker, as all of you have seen in pictures of circuses, is the one who walks on a wire high above the floor and he walks on a tight rope that goes straight. And, of course, beneath him is usually a large net. But the daredevils, they don’t have the net. And even beyond that, there are the super daredevils that do it over Niagara Falls, so they shot an arrow into the other side with a long cable on it and tied it up and there it was.
And this daredevil was extra. He decided he wasn’t just going to walk with a stick over the wire, on the wire. He was going to wheel a barrow, a wheelbarrow, over it. And that’s what he began to do.
And he wheelbarrowed the wheelbarrow in front of him. He began to push it across the precipice. And beside him was those huge falls and the screaming water full of thunder. And the people on the other side were breathless, and they were holding their breath and hoping that he would make it. And every now and then he seemed to tip a little here and tip a little there. But finally he made it and a great cheer went up.
And a man ran up to him and he said, “That was wonderful. I knew you could do it. I have faith in you.” And then the daredevil looked at him, he said, “If you’ve got faith in me how about jumping in the barrow and I’ll take you back.”
That’s a lot of faith. Shortly it means he puts his whole life into the hands of a human being.
And Jesus knew that: that the people of Nazareth were asked to put their whole lives into the hands of a human being. For God did not come with great wings and all kinds of special things to show that he was superhuman or superman. He came as a humble, itinerant preacher who claimed to be the Son of God.
And so the first problem that not only is for the people of Nazareth to face, we face it every Sunday. We give him courage for being a great teacher, we give him adoration for being the Son of God, but will we jump in the barrow and live our lives the way he wants us to live them? Ah, you have to think that over. You’ve got a whole week to think, you’ve got a whole lifetime to think that over.
When Jesus says, “Believe in me,” he says, “Give me your life.” And he won’t take it out of fear. He will only take it out of love. And that is the gift that you will give him when you follow him. And this is the meaning of God coming into the world to show his love and to receive our love.
The second thing, though, the second one is: when we look at ourselves in our daily lives, we find another problem that Jesus faced in Nazareth, and that problem is everybody seems to know who you are. Have you ever noticed that? They have you kind of pinpointed and listed, and we look at people the way we want to look at them, and we sometimes project things into them that are not there, but we never get a real clear view of who they are.
And sometimes we’re surprised. And we love to be surprised like that. A singer who looks kind of dowdy and unable to sing on something as radiant and great as television, suddenly opens her mouth and the whole people are so startled because she has the most beautiful voice they ever heard and they say, “Wow, where did that come from?” She always had it, but nobody saw it until she sang her song.
Now there’s another story and this is the final one. It’s an old Hasidim story. The Hasidim are the strictest of the strictest of the Jews, going all the way back to the 1600s especially in areas like Poland and the eastern part of Europe, but also in Brooklyn, believe it or not. A lot of Hasidim grew up next door to our neighbourhood, and I used to go over and open the doors for them on a Saturday, because the Hasidim aren’t allowed to open doors. They’re not allowed to work, even open the door to the synagogue, so they would give you 50 cents or a quarter to go in and turn on all the lights and open the door. It was a Saturday morning treat for us kids.
Anyhow the Hasidim story goes like this. A great centre for the Jewish religion was in Krakow, where the Pope was the bishop. That’s where he got to be very close to the Jewish people, so many Jewish people in Krakow. And one of the stories they tell is: One of their great Rebs… A Reb is short for Rabbi, but it really means “master” like “Sifu.” In an ordinary synagogue there is a Sifu, but then there are many, but then there is someone that’s even more important.
Anyhow, the story goes that a man got on a train, a very well-to-do man and he was also Jewish, and he got on the train and he’s going from Krakow, no, he’s going from Moscow back to Krakow, which is a long ride. And the train is a bit crowded, but he finds himself a room on one of the, not rooms, but one of the cabins. He sees there’s only one man in there. And the little man is sitting there and he’s kind of ugly and he looks a little bit tired and his clothes are a little bit frayed, neat, very neat, but kind of frayed, and he seems to be a little blundering person and not quite up to the snuff that this man is. And so he doesn’t want to talk to him. So the man says to him, “How are you?” and he says, “Hm. I’m okay.” That’s the end of it for another hour and a half.
And the businessman, he’s a businessman, well dressed and everything is smart, he’s saying, “How could this man get into this cabin?” Because this cabin is a rather special cabin you see, only us people who deserve it get into this cabin. Anyhow, he was kind of thinking less and less. He thought of getting out and going out to another cabin, but that seemed like…Too many people in the other place, though. He just kept quiet. And as they came closer to Krakow, a couple of people came on, a couple of more people.
Then they arrived at the station and there were about 10,000 people waiting for this man on the station. And he thought it was for him because his company had wired ahead how important he was. But he saw that it wasn’t for him. Nobody even said “Hello” to him. But when this little man came out, he smiled and all of them cheered and they carried him on their shoulders off the train.
And finally he realised… He asked somebody. He said, “Who is this?” He said, “This is the most precious Reb in all of Poland. Didn’t you recognise him?” And he said, “No, I didn’t recognise him. I’d like to apologise to him.”
So they brought him to the little Reb. And the little Reb smiled his funny little smile. And the rich man knelt down before him and he said, “You must forgive me. You must forgive me. I didn’t recognise you.” And the Reb smiles at him. He says, “Ooh no, you mustn’t kneel to me. You must get up now. But you must go through all of Krakow and every time you see a little old man you should kneel down and say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t really recognise you.”
You understand that? It means the story and the Reb would say this: that everyone is a child of God, and if he’s a child of God you can kneel before him and you will not be worshipping false gods, because God Himself dwells in his heart.
This is what Jesus came to tell us. He hadn’t come to put himself up. He brought himself down so that we might bring each other up and realise how great we are and important we are and sacred we are.
And the only way we’re going to realise that is when we begin to look at each other, really look at each other, into the depths where life really goes on, the pain of it and the difficulties with it. This is what.
Because if we look (then a child in the congregation cries and Father says, “That’s okay, he can cry, it’s almost over,” and the congregation laughs). Now I think you all got the meaning, yes? Even that little baby is worth the crucifixion of God Himself.
So when we leave church today and you begin to feel that you’re a Roman Catholic, think what it means. It doesn’t mean just to be baptised. It doesn’t mean just to be confirmed. It means Jesus saying, “Get in my wheelbarrow,” (Do you have that kind of faith?) “and I will ride you across chasms that you have never dreamed of.”
And when you greet each other and meet each other, remember that you’re hosting and greeting the Messiah himself, the Saviour of the World.
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This homily was delivered on 31st January 2010.
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