14th Sunday ordinary time, 7-8-18.
We pick up today in the Gospel of Mark where we left off last week. Between last Sunday’s stories about the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ robe and the girl who was announced to be dead, and today’s story, Mark gives us only 1 sentence of transition, “Jesus departed from there and came to his native place (Nazareth), accompanied by his disciples.”
This is typical of Mark’s Gospel. If you want an eloquently told tale, then read Luke. If you want a story told with the speed of a tractor-trailer on the Interstate, read Mark. In fact, the Gospel of Mark tends to be so fast moving and bare-bones straight to the point, it has been called “the Passion of Jesus with a long introduction.”
But this story we read today is unique in other ways. First, we get a very harsh, negative rant from people about why Jesus was not the big deal that everyone was making of him. Oh sure, they had no phones or texting or internet, but they had heard all about the miracles and the healing and the preaching that was so astounding. But they didn’t believe it. They didn’t believe Jesus was capable of such things. And furthermore, they were offended by Jesus and thought he ought to be back in the carpenter shop where he had grown up and doing the trade Joseph had taught him, talking about the weather and what was for dinner tonight.
Now think for a minute. If you were Mark, and you wanted to prove Jesus was the “Son of God”, would you tell a story about people who didn’t believe him, and a place where “he was not able to perform any might deed”? There are people, now, who will tell you that the “miracle of the loaves and fishes” was not so much as miracle as it was that Jesus got the people to openly share what they had.
But here, openly and remarkably authentic, Mark writes about Jesus being a failure in his home town. That ought to be enough motivation for us to ask “Why?? What is going on here?” And Mark, in his brief and pointed way gives us an answer, “(Jesus) was amazed at their lack of faith.”
Say that again? “Their lack of faith”? That needs an explanation. So we need to back up a little, to last week’s readings, and hear again what Jesus has to say about healing miracles and “faith”. The woman who had been sick for 12 years thinks, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” Jesus’ response to her: “Daughter, you faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.” The people from the official’s house said, “Your daughter has died.” Jesus responds: “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”
So I turn to my old friend, Mr. Webster, to check out what this word “faith” means. “Faith” is used as a label for organized religious groups, such as, “what faith are you – Christian, Jewish,” etc. Or we say, “I have faith in him, he’s a good guy, you can trust him,” Or “keep the faith” meaning continue to share a common goal. But then I find this in my dictionary: “Belief and trust in God.” So we know that Jesus wasn’t doing a series of “Magic Acts” , he was not a clever trickster who just woke up sleeping girls or knew that people were hiding their picnic baskets full of fish and bread. This has to do with belief, trust, and God.
The Catechism is also helpful in times like this. It says that “Faith” is a personal act where a person has the free choice to respond to God. God is revealed to each of us, and some of us respond. Faith is an interaction between a person and Jesus. A relationship develops, and is nurtured in trust and love. We see the same thing in human relationships. If we have faith in our spouse, if we learn that we can trust them, we grow in love with them, and if it a mutual act, then we begin to have faith that that person will continue to be there for us, that we can depend on them, and they will be faithful to us. Likewise, Jesus offers himself to us, and we can choose to willingly receive him and build an ever deepening relationship with him.
Does this help to explain why Jesus told the woman that her faith had saved her? Her “faith” was not just a moment, but a lifetime commitment of belief which would surely sustain her for all time. Jesus told the girl’s father, to “just have faith”. Both these people had made great effort to come to Jesus, to find him, to press thru the crowd, to risk shame & ridicule; they both came believing that Jesus was the solution to their unsolvable problems, that Jesus was the answer to their questions.
If “faith” is your relationship with Jesus, then your faith is mutual, having your life and your very being entwined in an unconditional and active intimacy with Jesus. Those are words we can seldom use in our society, “unconditional and active intimacy”, so different from the loneliness and isolation that is so common.
The opposite, of course, is when we shut down and refuse to respond, when we do not listen, when we turn away or deny the relationship. For it is not only the heat of criticism that stops faith from growing, but the cold of indifference and casual ignorance that is so common in churches. We shrug, we tell ourselves faith doesn’t really matter, or is irrelevant, and faith and love and caring wither away.
This was why Jesus was such a dud in the “old home town.” He opened himself to them, he came to teach and to help and to heal, and they would have nothing to do with him, other than to criticize and demean. They wanted to have him be small and inconsequential in their lives, be there to make a table or chair when they wanted one, but not “interfere” in their lives or be part of their lives all the time. They wanted him just to be the guy who lived on the corner, not someone they cared about or made sure they had a chance to talk to every day. They didn’t want to really know him, but wanted him to be waiting when they needed a favor, just the status quo. There was nothing to build a relationship on.
So, how do we treat Jesus? Is Jesus inconvenient for us? Are we interested in really knowing him? Or do we just stop by church when we have the time, expecting him to do a little carpentry work for us? Do we want to have a relationship of trust and love? Have we read our Bible enough to know what we’re missing? Do we understand the faith we profess or seek out ways to learn more? Do we have faith of the kind that will save us?