Mark 6:1-6 (14th Sunday of Ordinary Time)
Gideon, one of the lesser-known of the ancient Jewish prophets, once prophesied that the king’s favourite horse would soon die. The horse died a short time later. The king was outraged at Gideon the prophet, certain that his prophecy had brought about the horse's death. The king summoned Gideon and commanded him, “Prophet, tell me when you will die!” Gideon realized that the king was planning to kill him immediately no matter what answer he gave, so he had to answer carefully. “I do not know when I will die,” he answered finally. “I only know that whenever I die, the king will die three days later.”
Sometimes we have the wrong idea of what a prophet is. We can think that a prophet is someone who predicts the future, a kind of fortune teller. Prophets in the Bible are not like. There we find that prophets are not like clairvoyants gazing into crystal balls, but are rather more like the voice in the GPS device for your car. Prophets help direct us to heaven, our ultimate destination. They keep us on the right track as we try growing closer to God. When we make a wrong turn and find ourselves on a path that leads us away from Him, they help us to get back on the right road.
Jesus, the Son of God and our Saviour, is the greatest of all prophets. With His words and life, He shows us the definitive way to God our Father. Today in the Gospel we find Jesus preaching in the synagogue of His hometown. He is there speaking to people He has known since he was a child in order to challenge them to live better lives. Shockingly, Jesus Christ, the greatest of prophets, is rejected. Before we are tempted to look down on these people for casting Jesus and His message aside, let us consider two possible reasons why they might have acted in this way. When we think about it, we often do not behave much better. If we are not careful, we can easily ignore the message that Jesus wants us to hear for the same reasons as the people in His hometown.
Reason #1 for rejecting Jesus: Projection
One cartoon from my favorite comic strips Herman, gives a great example of what projection is. The single-panelled cartoon shows a middle-aged man standing in front of a desk speaking with his doctor. The man is perhaps slightly overweight but otherwise quite normal looking. At the bottom of the panel, we find the doctor’s question to his patient: “are you eating properly and getting plenty of exercise?” This question doesn’t seem out of place until we look across the table at the doctor. He is an enormous man sitting with a hand on his over-sized stomach! He is so fat he barely fits behind the desk! Psychologists tell us that we use projection as a defense mechanism against unpleasant feelings and impulses. Accepting a personal weakness hurts. In projection, we deny the existence of unsavoury characteristics in ourselves while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is constantly being rude may regularly accuse other people of being rude. In order to avoid the uncomfortable truth that his eating and exercise habits are horrendous, the doctor in the cartoon tells all his patients that they need to eat healthier and get more exercise.
When Jesus spoke in His hometown, His words must have made people uncomfortable. He revealed to them their shortcomings. Being made aware of the ways in which they are walking away from God must have made them feel very uneasy. Instead of accepting the pain that comes from recognizing their weaknesses and choosing to do something about it, the people defend themselves by employing some classic projection. They are not the ones who have a problem, Jesus is the problem! Who is this guy anyway? He’s just a carpenter! We know His mother and father! Who is He to tell us what to do?
We can all be pretty good at projection. Through readings at Mass, homilies, advice in confession and feedback from people we live with, God reveals to us ways in which we need to change. Instead of accepting our weak areas and trying to improve them, we can defend ourselves like the people in the Gospel. How can I be expected to be patient? Look at the people I have to live with! How can I pray more? My boss and family keep giving me more to do! Who do these people think they are, telling me I need to change? They are the ones with the problem! When we act like this, we reject Jesus as He continues His prophetic mission in our lives.
Reason #2 for rejecting Jesus: Blindness to the very ordinary ways God speaks to us
The people in the Gospel seem to reject Jesus because He is so ordinary in their eyes. This is someone they have known their whole life. They grew up with him. He doesn’t seem like anyone special. Like these people, we can think that if God really wanted us to change He would find some extraordinary way to communicate His message to us. A vision. A prophet from an important family in a more famous town. A telephone call from the Almighty Himself. God, however, rarely communicates through extraordinary means. The people miss God’s message for them because they do not want to listen to the ordinary seeming Jesus.
Jesus speaks His personal message to us in very ordinary ways. We read a passage from the Gospel and some phrase strikes us. We hear something in a talk that challenges us. The beauty of nature inspires us and makes us think about the creator. Someone we work with gives us some advice for how we can improve. Jesus the prophet speaks to us in very ordinary ways. We need to be sure not to miss Him.
This is my final Sunday at St. Paul Parish before I leave for further studies. For the past year I have been privileged to walk with this wonderful community as we all journey closer to God. In addition to expressing my gratitude, I want you to know that you have been a powerful way in which Jesus the prophet has spoken to me. At this parish I have met many people who are generous in following Christ. Families who sacrifice for one another. Individuals who serve selflessly. People devoted to prayer, interceding for others. Through you I have heard the call of Jesus to better live my own vocation. At this parish, I have experienced a warm welcome and great kindness. You accepted me. You have kept me well fed - perhaps too well fed! I have created friendships I will cherish. Through you I have heard Jesus telling me how much He loves and cares for me.Thank you!
Let us continue to pray for one another that we may not reject Jesus’ prophetic message that He communicates to us in ordinary ways. Let us respond wholeheartedly to Him.