The gospels present us with a powerful image of Jesus. He proves that He is God by performing great miracles. He feeds five thousand men with only a few barley loaves and fish. He calms the storm over the Sea of Galilee with a word from His mouth and walks on the water. At His command, demons are cast out and the sick are cured. Along with His mighty works, His teaching captivates those who hear it so that crowds of people come out to listen to Him. Most of those who witnessed all that Jesus said and did had no doubt that someone greater than a prophet was among them.
At the same time, the gospels recount to us only a small portion of Jesus’ life. It amounts to three years in the life of a thirty-three year old man. About ninety percent of His life was spent in the tiny village of Nazareth in Galilee.
At the time that Jesus lived there, Nazareth was home to about five hundred people. They were a mix of Jews and pagans living and working together. Because it was such a small town, it would have been very poor and everyone would have known each other very well.
We can tell from the gospels that Jesus lived a very simple life in Nazareth. He lived with Mary and Joseph, worked as a carpenter and would have attended the synagogue with his fellow Jews. There was nothing about Jesus that would have made Him stand out from others. That is why, when He finally returns to Nazareth to preach the word of God and heal, He is met with such resistance. You can just hear them saying to Jesus, “Who do you think you are? Do you think you are better than we are? We know you.” It must have been very painful for Him to experience so much rejection from the people He knew the best.
However, the fact that we hear so little about those hidden years in Nazareth does not mean that they are not important. It was during those years that Jesus grew in wisdom and strength. During those years, He studied the Scriptures and prayed. During those years He learned what it meant to serve God. In quiet and hidden ways, He was growing into the man who would both change and save the world.
When we reflect on our faith, it is natural for us to focus on the extraordinary. We think about all the great miracles that have taken place through the centuries. We ponder all the holy lives lived by so many saints. We consider the accomplishments of women and men of faith who built hospitals, founded schools, wrote influential books and served the needy with courage. However, like the life of Jesus, those heroic acts and miraculous occurrences are really only a small part of what it is to live the Christian life. Most of our life of faith is lived in small and hidden ways much like the years that Jesus lived in obscurity in Nazareth.
Consider the great saints - Saint Francis, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Saint Paul, Saint Catherine of Siena and so many others. We have heard the stories of the great things they were able to accomplish through their faith. However, most of their lives were not spent doing great things. Instead for many years they simply lived their faith in quiet ways, praying, doing good for the needy, growing in the virtues of patience and perseverance. So when the time came for them to be called upon to do great things, they were ready to do God’s will. During the ordinary seasons of their lives, they were laying a foundation through prayer and good works upon which God could build something beautiful.
The same is true for us. Most of us will not stand out or accomplish anything great. Instead we are called to live our faith daily by simple acts of charity and service to our neighbor. However, this is not to say that those works are insignificant. Not at all. It is all part of God’s work to bring His Kingdom to earth. If Christians were not faithful in small ways, so much of God’s work could not go on. If we are waiting to do something great, if we are expecting the extraordinary to take place, then we will be missing out on all the ordinary blessings that God has prepared for us today. We would be like the people of Nazareth who could not witness Jesus’ miracles because they could not get over that such an ordinary man as He could do such great things.
We gather here today to do something very ordinary - something we do every week and every day. We will take simple bread and wine, invoke the Holy Spirit upon it and share it. It is nothing that we have not seen done before perhaps hundreds of times. Though it appears to be very ordinary, it is anything but. Here the greatest miracle of all takes place. The God of Heaven, the Lord of all, will become really present to us. We will see Him, touch Him and consume Him. In His humility, God became man in Jesus of Nazareth. Today, He takes on flesh under the appearance of bread so that we can receive Him in the simplest, most ordinary way possible. Through this great sacrament, we can learn to look for God not only in the extraordinary and the miraculous, but in the ordinary, everyday events of life. Then we will realize that our whole world is charged with and transformed by the presence of God.