If there is a key word or sentence in today’s gospel passage, I think it would be the line that tells us that the people in Jesus’ own home town took offense at what he was saying to them. It doesn’t explain why; in fact, it’s preceded by exuberant praise for him: “Where did he get all this knowledge he’s sharing with us? What kind of wisdom has been given to him? And how do we explain the miraculous things he’s doing with those hands of his – placing them on the sick, the near dead, only to make them well?”
The people were astonished. Keep in mind that the older folks among them saw Jesus grow up; they knew him well as a bright, active, fun-loving little boy. Some were wondering what wonderful thing had happened to him. Others were asking sarcastically who he thinks he is.
And then a sobering, down-to-earth reality kicks in when the very same “astonished” persons attempt to put Jesus in his place, reminding him and the crowd that “he’s just one of us, so don’t be too taken by what he says. Remember, we know his brothers and sisters; they’re our friends and neighbors. We’ve grown up together…”
Hearing that, it’s Jesus who then takes offense, which must have gone deep into his soul. He reminds them all that while the world may praise and glorify someone who speaks the very truth of God, when that person gets back to his home and family and friends, he’s very likely to be dishonored, ignored, scoffed at. “Jesus,” we are told, “was amazed at their lack of faith.”
Because of this painful dissonance that had occurred between them, Jesus was unable to exercise his ministry of healing among these people with whom he had close ties and whom he respected and dearly loved. Love is meant to be shared, to be mutual. A one-sided love can be a tragedy that causes deep sorrow. Surely Jesus knew what that experience was like, not only when he was dying on the cross, but throughout his ministry among the people that he loved so much.
This idea of reciprocity, of mutuality, applies also to what we believe as Catholic Christians. By that I mean that a teaching of the church in order to be authentic requires not only competence and authority on the part of the teacher, the official church, but also understanding and acceptance on the part of those who are taught, the ordinary members of the church. This is so because the Spirit of God is present and active in both the teacher and the taught. I have heard it called the “Doctrine of Reception.”
As I composed this homily over the past week, I had in mind (as you might be surmising) on the one hand the recent astounding decision of the United States Supreme Court to honor same-sex marriage and on the other hand the condemnation of that decision that expectedly and immediately came from church leaders, including our own bishops. At the same time, from my own rather wide circle of respected friends and family members, I’ve been hearing nothing but approval of the decision. The point I make is that with regard to this present critical matter it already appears that the church’s official teaching is not being generally received by the people. At the same time, there are not yet signs that the official church recognizes and honors that non-reception. Surely this suggests that the matter needs to be widely discussed with open hearts and minds in the expectation that it will ultimately be resolved.
“Come, Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.”