Sunday Gospel Reflection – Ordinary Little Nazareth
Ordinary Little Nazareth
When Jesus returned to his hometown, Nazareth, his reception was disappointing to say the least (Mark 6: 1-6). People had heard about extraordinary things he did in other towns. He was invited to speak in the local synagogue and initially most of the people were astonished when they heard him. But soon the negative people and cynics began to spread the seeds of doubt. They advised people to hold on a while before they made any commitment. “This is the carpenter and we know all his family and relations. A nice man, a decent carpenter but he shouldn’t be getting notions above his station. People in other towns don’t really know him so they fell for his notions.” Local begrudgery won the day. Jesus quoted an old saying that no prophet is accepted by his own people. The problem was that in their eyes he was too ordinary.
For hundreds of years the Jews were expecting an Anointed One, that is, a Messiah, to come to lead them. Some expected a stern judge coming with fire and brimstone. Others thought in terms of prosperity, while the idea of a political leader was very strong in Galilee at that time. Galilee was like tinder waiting for a leader to spark a revolt to get rid of Roman rule. That is why Jesus avoided any identification as Messiah because his way was not what the people expected. However, there was a minority group called the Anawim, the people who remained faithful to God during the dark days of exile in Babylon. Later they became the faithful remnant who did not search for God in riches or power. Their spirituality is best expressed in Mary’s Magnificat. “He has looked on his servant in her nothingness, holy is his name.”
The last thing on earth that most people expected was a Messiah born in a stable, living a quiet life in a carpenter’s home in Nazareth. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” asked Nathaniel, a disciple of John the Baptist. Nazareth was never even mentioned in the Old Testament. It expanded as a base for migrant workers employed by Herod the Great in building the new city of Sepphoris. This may explain why Joseph came to Nazareth. Who could have expected that the Messiah would come from such an unpretentious place? Even the people of Nazareth did not accept him. He was far too ordinary to be the Messsiah.
God’s presence in ordinary things
One of the great lessons of the incarnation, the coming of God in human flesh, is that God is present not only in the great UP THERE, but also to be found in the little DOWN HERE. Let us ponder on some of the ways that God is to be found in ordinary, everyday experiences.
God is present in everyday works of compassion, kindness and caring. We have the Lord’s own testimony to this where Jesus speaks of the last judgement. What a wonderful surprise it will be when people are told that whenever one gave a cup of water to the thirsty, or visited the lonely, “you did it to me”.
God in nature
Some people are gifted with a wonderful closeness to God in nature. Patrick Kavanagh recalled the wonder of his childhhood,
“In the sow’s rooting, where the hen scratches
We dipped our fingers in the pocket of God.”
I love the little verse by Kevin Whelan, a poet and road sweeper in County Galway.
“I don’t need a spinning sun / moving statue / or parting sea.
Lord, a strawberry is / enough for me.”
God in our wounds and crosses
There is a strong movement today called the Prosperity Gospel or Cadillac Christianity, seeing God in prosperity, success and good fortune. The problem is that people who meet with failure, misfortunes, accidents and poverty are said to be victims of their own sins or sins of their family. But the people whom Jesus identified as blessed are the poor and powerless, those persecuted for their faith, those who work for justice and so on. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus on the cross entered into solidarity with all who suffer, with victims of injustice, even those who feel deserted by God. Pope Francis, in his days as Bishop of Buenos Aires, was deeply enriched by the deep faith of poor people in the shanty towns. “In their difficulties they know the suffering Christ”, he wrote. The figure of the suffering Christ tells them that God is with them in their suffering. Pope Francis pleads with the Church to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us in them. (The Joy of the Gospel, 198)
God in our weakness
In today’s Second Reading Saint Paul recalls how he discovered the presence and power of Christ in an unexpected place … in his problems and inability to solve them. He had received great revelations form God in the past but, as he says, “I was given a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan to beat me and stop me from getting too proud”. What was this thorn in the flesh? He was writing about the problems in the Church at Corinth which he was soon to visit. There were critics there who were undermining the good work he had done in the two years he spent there. Three times he pleaded with God to take away his fretting. But God replied, “My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness.” So, Paul accepted that he would have to live with the “insults, hardships, persecutions and the agonies I go through for Christ’s sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong.” It takes great faith to believe that God is still with us in times problems and opposition.
The lesson of Nazareth is that God is present not only in the great UP THERE, but also in the ordinary experiences of everyday life.
Lord Jesus, you walk the road of life with us but we do not recognise you.
Open our eyes to see you in the wonders of creation.
Open out hearts to serve you in the people around us.
Open our spirit to believe that you are with us in times of suffering and failure.
Br Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap.