This weekend, we will all probably have some experience of fireworks. Certainly, you and I have all seen our share of displays of color and explosions. With each burst of red, blue, green, white, and yellow, we breathily “Ooh” and “Ahh” at what unfolds in the sky above us. Sometimes, there are those fireworks that simply elicit a “Meh” from us too. Some are underwhelming. If most of the display is those “meh’s,” then we walk away disappointed. Underwhelmed. Maybe even angry that we wasted our holiday watching subpar fireworks.
Have you ever been “offended” by them, though?
In today’s gospel, we hear of Jesus’ return to His hometown and His preaching in the synagogue there. He had been doing this everywhere. However, when His own townspeople listened to Him, they were confused, underwhelmed, and – as Mark points out – “they took offense at him.”
Let’s remember who these Nazarenes were. They were not prostitutes and tax collectors of the kind that flocked to Jesus and that scandalized the Pharisees. They were not scholars of the Law who were troubled by profound theological questions concerning the nature and coming of the Messiah. They were not High Priests worried about an uprising against the power of Rome. If there were ever a bunch of normal folks, here they were: farmers, artisans, husbands, wives and families, neighbors of one another, neither super heroic and virtuous nor especially corrupted and sinful. In other words, they were a lot like us. Yet they amaze Jesus and prevent his work among them by their inability to see who He really is: by their lack of faith.
What is it that causes their blindness? It is this: they are distracted and offended by Jesus’s ordinariness. It is clear from this passage that during the thirty years Jesus spent at Nazareth he very effectively hid his divinity. He was not someone about whom the old folks of the village would nod knowingly and say: “That one is going to go far, you just watch!” Instead, He is only a carpenter, a hometown kid whose relatives we all know, and whom we have never thought particularly worth our attention. If God is going to speak to us, it had better be in a much more impressive manner. This attitude of theirs keeps them from seeing the signs of Jesus’s divinity in His mighty deeds.
As it was then, so it is now. Christ is still incarnate in the world, in His body the Church, and if ever there was an organization that smelled of humdrum humanity, this is it. What is to impress or overwhelm us? Don’t we do basically the exact same thing every time we come to church? And yet for those who have eyes to see, the signs of that divine presence are potent and pervasive: the luminous lives of the saints, the strange persistence of the Church’s influence, the daily recurring miracle of the Eucharist, the transforming power of the Sacred Scriptures. If we cannot perceive Christ’s divinity now in His body, we should be slow to think that we would have perceived His divinity had we met Him on the roads of Galilee. God prefers to appear among us in very humble guise, precisely to offend our pride and to bring us the healing medicine of humility.
If God doesn’t show up in our lives with fireworks, then we might be upset, even offended. “Don’t I deserve some clear signs? Some grand display? Should I be knocked off my horse so that God can get my attention and I can begin to be transformed into the saint that He wants me to be?”
Here’s the offensive part: no, you shouldn’t. You and I are not that important to deserve extra effort like that.
Now, before you all run to write downtown to tell the archbishop to take this new pastor away, let me follow that up with the reality of our faith. The fireworks are happening! They are happening for you and me – right now, right here! We are present for a miracle: here in this place, people who anywhere else would never come together sit side by side and hear the Word proclaimed; ideologically divergent people have something in common in this place. Strangers become friends here. And, best of all, Jesus becomes truly, physically, substantially present on our altar in the Eucharist.
While that might be something to which we have become accustomed – even considering all of it ordinary – it is anything but ordinary. During this Year of the Eucharist, we focus on the Presence of Christ in our midst, and we encounter Him – just as the Apostles did, just as those Nazarenes did. But now, the Eucharist reminds us of how far God did go to get our attention and bring us to redemption. Maybe we are used to it – maybe we are too used to it. But they are fireworks, nevertheless. Together we are invited to participate in that miracle.
Let’s enjoy the show