“FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTEMPT”
Ez. 2:2-5; 2Cor 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6
The Gospel of today follows immediately upon last week’s stories of the raising of Jairus’ daughter and the healing of the woman with a hemorrhage. It sets the context of our Gospel readings for the next two weeks in which Jesus will extend the work of his ministry to his disciples. Our Gospel text contains St. Mark’s narrative of the story of Jesus’ rejection by his people. Matthew (Mtt. 13:53-58) and Luke (Lk 4:16-30) also narrate the same episode. The reason behind his rejection is not surprising: it is because of their familiarity with Jesus. According to St. Mark, despite Jesus’ miracles and marvelous teaching, his mission to his people was a failure. Those who heard him did not go past the obvious human truths about him: there was nothing glorious about his family. Jesus’ experience of rejection by his own people exemplifies the adage that “familiarity breeds contempt”. Or as Jesus himself puts it: “A prophet is not without honour except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” St. John’s gospel puts it succinctly: “He came to his own and his own people did not accept him” (Jn 1:12).
1. JESUS’ HOME-COMING
In this narrative, it is evident that Jesus was already somewhat of a celebrity. He had a reputation for his miracles and the crowds he drew. Here is a story of “A local boy does well”. Probably, the people flocked to the synagogue to hear Jesus speak. Jesus arrived at the synagogue (as was his custom) for worship. It was common to allow distinguished guests to give the sermon of the day. According to Luke’s version, Jesus took the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and read (Mark and Matthew do not give us the source of his teaching). This seems to be a combination of Isaiah 1:1-2 and Isaiah 58:6. The text says there is one coming who will carry the Spirit of the Lord. He will come to make things right in the world. Jesus put down the scroll and said he was the fulfillment of these words of Isaiah. As it were, Jesus claimed that he was the one whom Isaiah was referring to.
The first response of the people was amazement. When Jesus spoke, he tended to captivate his audience. People recognized a unique authority in his Words, they recognized his wisdom. There was something about what he said that pierced the soul and seemed to have the power of God. At first, they probably wondered if he was indeed the Messiah. But, that soon changed.
2. THEY DISMISSED HIM
The reason why they dismissed the words of Jesus was because they knew his family (who were “common folks”). They watched him grow up and they did not see anything special in him. He came from a poor home, with a carpenter as his (supposed) father and a simple village woman as his mother. None of his kin was special in any way. Jesus, himself, had not gotten any good education, like attending one of the theological institutes that trained rabbis. To them, he seemed like just any common boy. Yet he presumed to teach people about God! Where did he get that from? Who was he making himself out to be? Indeed, here, we have a classic case of “familiarity breeding contempt”. They concluded that a person of such background could not be the Messiah. The gospels of Mark and Matthew simply tell us that Jesus said: “no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.” But Luke gives us more information by quoting Jesus as saying: “You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.’ But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.” (Lk 4:23-24)
Jesus knew the people wanted a special demonstration of his power. But Jesus also knew that miracles would not impress them. They would find ways to dismiss the miracles just like they dismissed his words. Besides, he did not come to do “miracles on demand”; he came to point people to a new life. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).
3. NO PROPHET IS ACCEPTED IN HIS OWN HOMETOWN
The words, “a prophet is without honour in his hometown” are words frequently quoted today. These words embody the idea that it is hard for people who know you to ever see you as a prophet. People who know you will tend to dismiss you. This may be true for several reasons:
a) Sometimes it is simply out of PREJUDICE. In Jesus’ case, his towns people knew his family background and concluded that someone from such a common family could not possibly be the One promised by God. Quite often, we are filled with these kinds of prejudice. We dismiss people because of:
Their family background (this is especially true in small towns)
Their skin color or ethnic background.
Their gender: (People make comments: No doubt; it is a woman driving that car!)
The job they hold. For some reason, people conclude certain jobs are demeaning and apparently signify a “lesser person”.
The mistakes they have once made. One wonders how many people, as adults, still have to overcome a mistake they made when they were younger. We hold people hostage to their past even though we claim to believe in the grace of God!
Their education or their lack thereof. Interestingly we tend to measure people by the amount of education they have had. People with more education are “educated beyond their intelligence” and those with less are dismissed as “uneducated”.
Prejudice has its roots in arrogance. It is a form of idolatry because we conclude that we are qualified to serve as judge over someone else. People get a picture in their head of what “people like you” are like, and they cannot seem to see go past that picture!
b) Sometimes we dismiss people out of COMPETITION. We hate it when a classmate or colleague is honoured above us. For some reason, we feel that we have been “cheated” when someone else is honoured. Surely, there were some people in the hometown of Jesus who thought, “Jesus, can’t be the Messiah because I am better than he is.”
c) Sometimes, it is out of HURT or a sense of ABANDONMENT. This is especially true in marriage. A person marries believing the two share the same qualification. But when one of the two advances in education or financial muscles, all the rules change. The other person feels cheated or left behind.
d) Sometimes, it is simply because of HARDNESS OF HEART. Sometimes when people do not like the message, they reject the messenger. This is the message of the first reading of today. God is sending the prophet Ezekiel to the people of Israel whom he describes as rebels, “Hard of face and obstinate of heart” (Ezekiel 2:4). These people reject God, his message and his messenger. That rejection of God’s word continues into the New Testament. Before Stephen was stoned to death he said to his listeners, “You, stubborn people with your pagan hearts and pagan ears. You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do” (Acts 7:51). Luke 19:41 tells us that as Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time he cried because they did not recognize the time of their salvation. In the Gospel today (Mark 6:1-6) we see the people of Nazareth rejecting Jesus because of hardness of heart. They made up every excuse to reject him because they know his family.
Once again, St. Luke’s version of this narrative supplies us with the proper reason for the rage of the people against Jesus (Lk 4:25-30). Jesus uses a couple of illustrations to show them that when Israel resisted what was true, God gave his blessing to those outside of Israel. For instance,
God sent Elijah to Zarephath which was a Gentile city. A woman there provided for Elijah by the miraculous provision of God. The implied message is this: God found faith in the land of the Gentiles rather than in Israel.
Elisha met a man by the name of Naaman from the land of Aram. Naaman was a soldier who suffered from leprosy. Elisha told the man to wash in the Jordan River seven times. When he did so (although he was little put off at first), he was healed of his leprosy. The implication was clear to the people: God healed the foreigner when there were many lepers in Israel because the foreigner had more faith than those who were “the chosen of God”.
The people felt insulted by these examples. They were so angry that they wanted to push Jesus over a cliff! But Jesus just walked through the crowd and went on his way. They were powerless against him.
Nonetheless, for their lack of faith, Jesus did not perform any miracles there. This does not mean that the people’s lack of faith somehow hindered his power. Jesus simply refrained from performing signs because he knew that they would be wasted on these people. As said earlier, Jesus did not come to do “miracles on demand”. HE CAME TO POINT PEOPLE TO A NEW LIFE. Sadly, the people of Jesus’ hometown missed the treasure, the pearl of great price, when he stood before their very eyes.
5. CERTAIN LESSONS TO DRAW FROM THIS EPISODE
a) First, we must be aware of how easy it is to miss what is right in front of us because of our prejudices. Sometimes we look past those who are right in front of us. Think about how easy it is:
To envy what others have and miss the abundant blessings that God has given to us.
To notice the gifts of other people’s children and miss how talented and special your own children are.
To see the beauty and attractiveness in others and overlook the beauty, faithfulness and treasure of your own spouse.
To see the vibrant programme and great advantages of another church while failing to see, invest in, and appreciate the Faith of the Catholic Church.
To dream about how wonderful a different job would be, all the while missing how great the job is that you currently have.
To complain about those who disagree with you instead of talking with and learning from them.
To ignore what children or our old parents are saying because we have concluded they won’t say anything of significance.
The familiar does breed contempt, indeed. But that should not be the case. It has been said that in any church service, such as this Holy Mass, the congregation preaches more than half the sermon. The faithful bring an atmosphere with them. That atmosphere is either a barrier through which the preacher’s word cannot penetrate; or else it is such an expectancy that even the poorest sermon becomes a living flame. Therefore, we should not judge a person by his/her background and his/her family connections, but by what he/she is. Many a message has been killed stone dead, not because there was anything wrong with it; but because the minds of the hearers were so prejudiced against the messenger that it never had a chance.
b) Secondly, we must not give up on people who have dismissed us. In the first reading of today, we heard that God called the prophet Ezekiel and sent him to prophesy to the rebellious Israelites, even though God knew their response would be rebellion and revolt against the Lord. God still sent Ezekiel saying, “whether they heed or resist…they shall know that a prophet has been among them” (Ezek 2:5). God will ensure that his word would be preached regardless of the response. The response of God’s chosen people would not determine whether or not God would send his servants or the prophets. Unfortunately, very often we are more inclined to share our faith with strangers than we are with our own family members. People eagerly travel long distances to preach the Word, yet they never talk to their neighbours. We may spend hours talking about faith with members of youth groups but are not eager to spend any time talking to our own children! True, it may be harder to win a hearing with those who know us, but we must not give up. We must patiently build a bridge and try to open doors. God wants to use us to touch the life of someone we know and love. After all, “Charity begins at home!” although it does not end there (at home).
Quite often, we have underestimated other people’s ability. We have underrated opportunities, and overlooked what God can do in our lives and in the lives of others. Let us pray for the discernment to be able to kill the prejudices block our vision and our minds towards the enormous opportunities that God places on our way. May we never write someone off or let familiarity breed contempt in us!