Shortly after Laura and I got married, we bought a small, run-down house. It was right across the street from the house we were renting. This poor old house needed everything! We redid all the interior walls, built cabinets, did electrical work, flooring, plumbing. You name it – we did it. Well, actually, I did most of it. Laura was very pregnant with our first son, and I didn’t want her hoisting 4×8 sheets of drywall or breathing paint fumes.
She’d often come across the street to see how I was doing. On a number of occasions, she would see me doing a job of some sort and tell me something that would start like this: “Instead of doing it that way, wouldn’t it be better if you…” and so on. Now guys, I’m sure many of you have had similar experiences, and I’m sure that as you recall them, your muscles get tense and the hair stands up on the back of your necks. The last thing we want is someone telling us how to do something. We know our wives very well, and they know how to do lots of things, and we admire them for that. But when it’s our wives telling us how to do “man work,” well, that’s got to be the worst. Because we’re men, and men know how to do “man work.” It’s genetic or something!
In the Gospel today, Jesus went to his hometown. He had been preaching in many other places. In the previous chapter of Mark’s Gospel, he tells us how Jesus had driven out demons, and then there’s the account we heard last week, where he healed the woman who suffered from hemorrhages and raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Jesus had preached to many people. He had done battle with the Scribes and Pharisees, and he had attracted a group of disciples. And some of these disciples came with him to Nazareth.
When we hear today’s Gospel we tend to focus only on the line: “A Prophet is not without honour, except in his hometown.” But a few verses earlier we read that the people were actually impressed with Jesus. They were “astounded.” “What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!” And still: “They took offense at him.” It doesn’t make sense that if they were impressed with what he said and what he did that they would “take offense.” Or does it?
You remember when I told you how Laura would come over to the house that we were redoing and make these “helpful suggestions,” about how I should do things differently – and how it would bug me when she did that. What I didn’t tell you was that she was usually right. But it still bugged me! Just like the people in Jesus’ hometown. They were amazed at his teaching and his acts of power, but they couldn’t get past the fact that he was “Mary and Joseph’s kid” – the one who played in their streets and grew up in their community. And so they didn’t believe – they didn’t have faith. And because they didn’t have faith – the kind of faith that we saw last week from the woman with the hemorrhage and from Jairus – Jesus couldn’t perform many miracles in Nazareth.
Ezekiel would face a similar problem. In the first reading, Ezekiel told how God sent him to be a Prophet to Israel. But God warned him that the people wouldn’t listen. But then he said: “Whether they hear or refuse to hear, they shall know that there has been a Prophet among them.” So, like Jesus, the people would understand that Ezekiel was bringing an important message from God, but they wouldn’t necessarily listen, or act on what he was telling them.
Why does this happen? Why did the people in Jesus’ hometown understand that he had great wisdom and power, and yet refuse to have faith in him? Why is it that the people would know that Ezekiel was truly a Prophet from God, and yet refuse to listen? Mark tells us that the people in Jesus’ hometown “took offense.” Ezekiel tells us that the Israelites were disrespectful and stubborn.
I can tell you that when Laura gave me her unsolicited (and unwanted) advice about my work – my “man work” – I took offense, I didn’t respect her opinion (at least at first), and I was stubborn. So it still happens. A couple of weeks ago I was talking with the Archbishop. He and the other bishops had just released a statement about the possible development of nuclear power generation in Alberta. If you read the bishops’ statement, you will know that the bishops didn’t come out against nuclear power, they just raised some serious concerns that they thought should be part of the discussion going forward. They were fulfilling their roles as the prophets of our day. The Archbishop got a number of angry letters saying, essentially: “Mind your own business!” I don’t think these angry people would deny that health and social issues have to be part of the debate, but they certainly didn’t want “church people” sticking their noses in where they didn’t belong – at least in their opinion. Like the people of Ezekiel’s time, they were hearing a message that they knew was important, but they were rejecting the messenger.
Perhaps the common denominator in all of this is pride. I can tell you that when Laura tried to give me advice about building shelves, my male ego was fully engaged. The people in Jesus’ home town couldn’t accept that they should listen to – or believe in – someone that they knew as a small child. The Israelites were too proud to change their ways despite the fact that they knew that Ezekiel’s message came from God.
Are we the same way? We hear God speaking to us through the Scriptures every weekend. Do we accept what God is telling us or do we think that we know better? Do we have faith – or do we have pride? You may have heard the term “smorgasbord Catholics.” These are people who claim to be Catholics, but they pick and choose the parts of Catholic teaching they want to believe. What they have is pride. What they lack is faith.
St. Paul talks about pride in the second reading today. Jesus had revealed many things to St. Paul, and St. Paul’s mission to the Gentiles was a great success. In his Letter to the Corinthians today, he talked about how it was important that he didn’t get too proud (he used the word “elated”). Instead of seeing himself in a position of power and authority, St. Paul says: “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me…for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” That sounds backward: “when I am weak, I am strong.” What St. Paul was saying was that when he got his pride out of the way – when he made his ego weak, he was making room for Christ. When St. Paul was weak, then Jesus could work through him in a very powerful way – then he would be strong.
Whether we’re people of Nazareth confronted by the teaching of a “kid from the neighbourhood,” or Israelites being challenged by the words of Ezekiel, or even a handyman perched on top of a stepladder, we can accept or reject the wisdom that’s revealed to us. As Catholics, we have the great gift of God’s teaching that began with the Jewish people, was made full in the person of Jesus, and has been handed down through St. Peter and the apostles to the present day – through Pope Benedict and Archbishop Smith. And it’s through this teaching that we can become powerful – we can become strong. But first, we have to become weak.