14th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012
St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
July 8, 2012
In today’s Gospel we encounter 2 very disconcerting facts.
First, it tells us that the people in Jesus’ tiny home town of Nazareth
his old friends, “Took offense at him.”
Second, it tells us: “So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there.”
Let’s look at these a little more carefully, beginning with the first one.
Why is it that the Nazoreans took offense at Jesus,
refusing to accept his teachings?
A lot of times we think, if only Jesus would come to me and speak to me
—that would strengthen me, and my faith, so much.
So it’s kind of stunning to us
that even these people who knew Jesus so well, his own people,
who he came to and taught personally,
wouldn’t believe in him.
But if you think about it, it’s not that surprising.
Jesus offended people all the time, saying a whole lot of things
that were hard for them to accept and believe.
For example, remember the Bread of Life discourse in John 6,
when he taught his disciples that he would give them
a bread that would really be his own body,
and they had to eat it to have eternal life?
Scripture tells us:
“Many of his disciples…said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
But Jesus, “Do you take offense at this? ….
…After this many of his disciples …no longer [followed] him.”
Or remember Matthew’s chapter 19, where Jesus lays out 6 very hard sayings:
including the prohibition of divorce, and re-marriage after divorce;
and the teaching that some people are simply not capable of marriage
—their either born that way or made that way by others.
Scripture tells us the apostles,
“were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”
In other words, even they had a hard time believing these hard sayings.
Why is this such a surprise that people in Jesus’ time
would take offense at his hard sayings?
—we see the exact same thing all throughout the last 2000 years,
and especially today.
The Church says: “no divorce and remarriage”;
and that “homosexuals just can’t marry each other,
whether they were born that way or made that way by others.”
Don’t people take offense at that?—and all it is is the direct teaching of Jesus.
Even members of his Church take offense
—even sometimes bishops and priests—
“his own kin and in his own house,” as it were.
Why are we surprised that the people of Nazareth took offense?
Jesus can be offensive, if we cling to our sins, or refuse to have faith.
Which brings us to the 2nd disconcerting fact in today’s Gospel reading,
the fact that: “he was not able to perform any mighty deed there.”
How can Jesus “not be able” to perform a miracle?
After all, he’s God, isn’t he?
But notice, in fact, Jesus is “able” to perform miracles in Nazareth.
The text goes on to say,
“apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.”
So he did do miracles there.
To understand all this you have to remember
that Jesus usually performed miracles for one of two reasons:
either to show his power so that people would believe in him,
or simply out of mercy to the afflicted.
The only thing that limits Jesus
is either his own divine nature or our human nature.
His divine nature limits him in the sense that,
for example, as God by nature he is not capable of doing any evil,
he is not capable of not loving.
And our human nature limits him in the sense that
in his love for us he respects our free will
—and limits himself according to our choices.
Here in Nazareth he is “amazed at their lack of faith.”
His own people are, in the words of today’s first reading:
“Hard of face and obstinate of heart.”
There’s not a thing he can say or do to change their minds,
so there’s no reason to perform a great sign,
except out of mercy for “a few sick people.”
Think of all the times he performed great miracles,
and still the eyewitnesses didn’t believe in him.
Again, go back to the Bread of Life discourse
—right before that
his disciples personally witnessed him feed five thousand men,
“with five …loaves and two fish.”
And still they left him because his sayings about the Eucharist
were too hard to accept.
Same thing here in Nazareth, so he says, in effect,
“no miracles, believe or don’t, it’s up to you.”
The only thing limiting him is his respect for their free will choice to reject him
Of course, he faces the same problem today.
Through his holy Catholic Church he continues to proclaim the hard sayings,
and people still take offense because of a lack of faith.
Even his own people.
For example, Americans, 95% of whom were born into the Christian families,
but so many now reject Christ and his teachings.
And Europe, a civilization saturated in and founded on
Christian history and heritage,
and now the faithful are only a small minority.
And you and I—we also all too often take offense at his teachings
because all too often our faith is too weak.
Some people say, that’s why it would be great
if he’d show some great sign of his power.
But again, that didn’t work so well 2000 years ago:
remember the feeding of the 5 thousand.
And it really doesn’t work today.
In my opinion Christ has been performing an incredible mighty deed
for 2000 years—his Church.
The miracle of the Church—founded on the ministries
of men like St. Peter, a humble fisherman who denied Jesus 3 times.
Or St. Paul, who tells us in today’s 2nd reading that
he suffered from some unnamed weakness he describes as
“a thorn in the flesh …an angel of Satan.”
And for 2000 years it has been ruled by and filled with weak men and women,
even great sinners.
And yet look at what she has done:
the Catholic Church has dramatically changed the world,
and still survives today as a strong dominant voice and force
for truth, worship and charity.
If that’s not a might deed of Jesus I don’t know what is.
And instead of inspiring awe and faith, it seems to draw only disrespect.
Of course, sometimes miracles can be helpful in strengthening faith.
But you know, sometimes God works more effectively
by not doing might deeds
—by remaining silent, or simply speaking in a quiet voice.
Let me give you a personal example.
I apologize if you’ve heard part of this story before,
and I’ll try to make a long story short.
23 years ago I was working at a moderately successful career
as an accountant with a big firm,
But after some big changes in the firm, I decided to quit,
confident that I’d have my pick of jobs with other companies.
But it didn’t turn out that way, and days turned into weeks,
and weeks into months.
So I started to really get serious about my prayers.
And then I realized a couple of things:
first, what success I’d had, was really a gift from God
—he had been doing mighty deeds for me all along.
And second, I realized that I was asking him for a new mighty work
—“find me a great job”—
but I was doing very little to do anything like “mighty deeds” of faith in him.
In short, by doing nothing, he forced me to my knees and to believe.
And then, he did do a mighty deed,
and things started to fall into place for me.
At first, it was a wonderful career opportunity.
But pretty soon it began to lead to where I am today.
Sometimes, it’s only when God holds back his might deeds
that we are able to see his mighty deeds
—because it is only when we realize how weak we are on our own
that we can begin to see Christ’s true might,
and how strong we could be with his grace.
For as Jesus told his apostles at the end of all the hard sayings in Matthew 19:
“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
And as he said to St. Paul in today’s second reading:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
And so St. Paul summarizes: “when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Now some will surely say that all this merely wishful thinking,
or a psychological self-deception.
“Of course,” they say, “when you’re weak you can become desperate,
so you cling to religion as a way to explain things.”
They can believe that if they want to.
But that’s not what we believe.
We believe there is an all-powerful God, who loves us.
We believe that he came into the world to teach us how to live and love,
and to save us from our weakness, by the power of his grace.
And we believe that it’s only when we humble ourselves
to recognize our weakness and sins,
and the power of his words and grace,
that we can become the truly good men and women He created us to be.
As we now move deeper into this Holy Mass,
let us have faith in Our Lord Jesus
and in everything he’s taught us,
even the sayings that are sometimes offensive
to our sinful and obstinate hearts.
And let us kneel before him humbly
firm in faith that by the power of his grace
“when I am weak, then I am strong.”