Have you ever noticed that priests are rarely assigned to the parishes they grew up in? There is a good reason for that. If the parish is filled with people who knew the priest when he was young, they might find it harder to look upon him as a leader. It might be difficult to take what he has to say seriously because they knew him as a mischievous youngster. Also the parishioners would find it harder confessing their sins to him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation or bringing their problems to him if they see him as no different from themselves. When we think we know someone very well, it is difficult to see him or her in another light. The better we think we know them, the harder it is for us to be inspired or surprised by them.
Jesus knew this very well. In today’s gospel, he returns to His hometown, Nazareth. Up to this point, He had been preaching throughout the Galilee area and had established a reputation as a powerful healer. When He returns to Nazareth, the townsfolk are anxious to see what has become of their hometown boy. In Jesus’ time, Nazareth was a very small town of a few hundred people. Everyone knew each other very well. There were no secrets among them. So when Jesus arrives, they are impressed by His words of wisdom but cannot get passed their memories of him. They think they know everything there is to know about Him but are unaware of just how wrong they are. It is clear to us when they ask, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” that they have no idea that He is in fact the Son of God. And because of their lack of faith - their inability to get past what they think they know - Jesus is unable to perform any miracles for them.
How does Jesus react? Does He tell them that He understands the difficulty they are experiencing in accepting Him? Does he reassure them that it is natural not to believe that a hometown boy could perform miracles? On the contrary, He rebukes them sternly for their stubbornness. He lets them know in no uncertain terms that they are missing out on a great work of God and that they will be judged for it. We know how strong Jesus’ criticism of them is by their reaction. They immediately seize Him and take Him to the edge of town to throw Him off a cliff. “How dare He speak to us like that!” , they must have thought. “Who does He think He is?” The sad part is that, because of their preconceived notions, they missed out on the opportunity to be healed, to have their sins forgiven and to draw closer to their Heavenly Father.
Today’s gospel reading provides a stern warning for us, especially for many of us who are lifelong Catholics and think we know all there is to know about our faith. Because we attend Mass every Sunday and follow all the rules, we can be deceived into believing that we are already doing enough. We can think that there is nothing more for us to learn, nothing more that is required of us. We have already heard it all. If we think that way, then God has a big surprise for us.
Have you ever had the experience of someone asking you a question about your faith? Maybe you have had a Protestant friend ask you why Catholics pray to Mary or a child ask you how God can be three persons but still one God? Then have you had the experience of not being able to explain what you believe? It is at such moments that we appreciate just how rich our faith is and how much there is to learn. We can never exhaust all there is to know about God, the Church, the Bible, the Sacraments and all the great treasures of our faith. Even our Holy Father, the Pope, spends time every day in study trying to gain a deeper understanding of the mysteries of God. If He is still hungry to learn more, then we certainly should make an effort to study our faith.
A good place to start would be reading the Bible. Just a few minutes everyday going through the Old Testament prophets, the gospels or the letters of Saint Paul can broaden our understanding of the mysteries of salvation. Another important book to have is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Just about any question we might have regarding what the Church teaches can be found there. There are also many websites that provide helpful information about our faith. The more we learn, the hungrier we will be to understand even more and the deeper our faith will grow.
Our second reading today gives us insight into the best way to keep our faith fresh and new for us. It is by cultivating love. We can never allow ourselves to forget that the Catholic faith is not primarily a matter of attending Mass and following rules. First and foremost, it is a matter of love. All the rules are meant to teach us what it means to love God and one another as Jesus commanded us. Love is an ongoing adventure. We never reach a point in our lives when we have loved enough. Rather love is a day to day commitment to reach out to the poor, to put the needs of others before our own and to strive to see the face of Christ in everyone we meet. Dedicating ourselves to loving God and others daily we ensure that we will not miss out on all the beautiful gifts our Heavenly Father wishes to pour out upon us.
No matter where we are on our faith journey, it can be tempting for us to think we have heard it all and know everything we need to know. The good news can easily sound like old news to us. However, by committing ourselves to growing in our understanding of what Jesus teaches and by focusing on love we can keep the message of Christ ever fresh in our hearts. In this way, we will always be open to the way Jesus visits us today with new graces and deeper insights. Unlike the villagers of Nazareth who could not put faith in Him, we will be able to receive all the gifts of knowledge, healing and power that Jesus brings to us.