14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 5, 2015
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 5, 2015
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today’s text from the Gospel of Mark tells us that when Jesus went to Nazareth
“he was not able to perform any mighty deeds there…
He was amazed at their lack of faith.”
This causes some to think it means that Jesus
was powerless to perform miracles for people who didn’t believe in Him.
But the Gospels clearly teach that there were no limits to Jesus’ power.
So, while St. Mark does imply a connection between the “lack of faith”
and the lack of “mighty deeds,”
he in no way implies that faith controls Jesus’ power.
In fact, the parallel text in St. Matthew’s Gospel clarifies that
Jesus reacted to their faithlessness by choosing not to perform miracles.
Jesus usually performed miracles for one of two reasons:
either as an act of simple mercy,
or in order to reveal His divine power, and so His divine authority.
So when St. Mark writes that Jesus performed no miracles in Nazareth
“apart from curing a few sick people”
he’s pointing out that
Jesus did choose to perform a few miracles of mercy in Nazareth,
but chose not to use miracles to reveal His authority.
Still, why did Jesus choose not to show His authority in Nazareth?
The first thing that the Gospels tell us about this visit is that Jesus
“began to teach in the synagogue.”
So it’s in response to His teaching that His neighbors “took offense at him.”
And they were His neighbors—this was where he grew up.
So if knowing him so well they still wouldn’t believe what He preached
what good would a show of His “mighty deeds” do?
In the words of the prophet Ezekiel, from today’s 1st reading, they were:
“Hard of face and obstinate of heart.”
And Jesus knew that nothing—not even a great miracle—
would change their hearts to accept that he spoke
with the authority of God Himself.
Struggling to believe Jesus was not an uncommon reaction to Him,
even from those who knew Him well.
Remember how at the Last Supper Jesus scolded His apostles:
“Have I been with you so long, and still you do not know me?”
So what was the difference between the Nazareans and the apostles?
Why did Jesus walk away from one, and not the other?
The difference, it seems, is that while the apostles struggled,
they were not hard hearted: their hearts were open.
So rather than being “offended by Jesus,” as the Nazareans were,
the apostles loved him, but struggled to understand him.
And so rather than walk away from them, Jesus continued to teach his apostles
and show them his mighty works.
If only the Nazareans’ had had the apostles’ openness,
they might have listened to his teaching, seen his mighty power,
and come to believe in him.
Instead, Nazareth rebelled against Jesus, God the Son.
Much like their ancestors 500 years earlier,
as we read in today’s first reading:
“[they] are rebels who have rebelled against me;
they …have revolted against me to this very day.
….they are a rebellious house.”
Yesterday we celebrated a different kind of rebellion:
the beginning of America’s revolt against King George and England,
and the birth of our nation 239 years ago.
Contrary to what many seem to think, that rebellion and this nation
were not born in a vacuum:
they were the product of the minds and hearts
of founding fathers and a whole American people
who were steeped in the Christian religion.
So while those patriots in Philadelphia in 1776,
and all the Americans they represented, were “rebels” in “revolt,”
they never intended to rebel against God.
In fact in the first 2 paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence
they proclaimed that it was,
“the laws of nature and of nature’s God”
that entitled America to exist as a nation
and they declared as “self-evident” that “the Creator” Himself
gives each man certain basic rights which are “inalienable.”
And when they said “God” and “Creator” almost all of them meant “Jesus.”
The fact is, Jesus has been with this nation from the very beginning.
He is, in almost every sense of the word, “one of our own.”
Like Nazareth, this country is, in so many ways, “his native place”
—“his own house.”
But also like Nazareth,
throughout our history we have often been
“Hard of face and obstinate of heart.” In the past we’ve tolerated and even embraced such unchristian sins as
slavery and racial prejudice.
And this hardheartedness continues today, as we accept
materialism, sexual promiscuity and depravity, and abortion.
And now we’ve become so hard hearted toward Christ that we’ve even accepted
something so repugnant to “the laws of nature and nature’s God”
as so-called “same sex marriage.”
Fortunately, though, unlike Nazareth, throughout our history
Jesus has chosen to perform many “might deeds” for us.
Yesterday we celebrated one of them:
the miracle that a loosely knit confederation of colonies,
whose citizens were farmers and merchants, not soldiers and statesmen,
could rise up and defeat the most powerful nation-Empire on earth
to win an unprecedented independence.
As George Washington wrote in his “Farewell Orders” to the Army in 1783:
“A contemplation of the compleat [sic] attainment …
of the object for which we contended,
against so formidable a power, cannot but inspire us
with astonishment and gratitude…
The singular interpositions of Providence in our feeble condition..,
as could scarcely escape the attention of the most unobserving
….was little short of a standing Miracle.”
And that miracle would stand and endure
as a nation that would establish a government the likes of which
had never been encountered by mankind:
based on the God-given dignity and rights of man.
A nation that has grown great not just through commerce and military might,
but through moral integrity and courage,
sacrificing 100’s of 1,000s of her sons in a war to end slavery,
and 100’s of 1,000s more on foreign soil
to protect freedom across the world since then.
Still, many say
yes perhaps there were “mighty works” in the past, but look around today.
Again look at all the problems with the economy, moral values, and terrorism.
What miracles are there when we see how just over one week ago
one judge on the supreme court
exercised tyrannical power to ignore “the laws of nature and nature’s God”
and impose as the new law of the land, same sex marriage?
As in Nazareth, Jesus came to us and taught us, saying:
“he who made them from the beginning made them male and female,
and said, ‘For this reason a man shall…be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh’?”
And we were: “Hard of face and obstinate of heart.” Today, isn’t Jesus amazed at our “lack of faith”
and so “not able to perform any mighty deeds” here, for us?
But think of this: for almost 40 years a majority of Americans
didn’t think that the principle that
all human beings had an “inalienable right”
to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,”
applied to unborn babies.
But now a Gallup Poll released this last May,
shows that a large majority of Americans, 55%,
believe the abortion should be banned in almost all cases.
America’s hardheartedness to God’s gift of human life is breaking down.
If that is not a “mighty deed” of Jesus Christ, I don’t know what it is.
Like Nazareth 2000 years ago,
America has not only known Jesus for a long time,
but has also had a certain hard-heartedness toward him for a long time.
But unlike Nazareth, Jesus seems to recognize in us the same openness to him
he once saw in the apostles,
and so continues to perform mighty deeds in our midst,
and to teach us.
Today’s 1st reading records how 2500 years ago
God sent Ezekiel to teach the nation of Israel, saying:
“I am sending you…. [and] you shall say to them:
Thus says the LORD GOD! And whether they heed or resist
they shall know that a prophet has been among them.”
2000 years ago Jesus, God himself, came to teach His people,
and then sent out his apostles
and the early Christians who followed them
as prophets to “teach all nations.”
Today Jesus wants to send prophets to teach America:
someone has to go and say to our nation:
“Thus says the LORD GOD” Jesus Christ!
So who does he send?
You know who: he sends you and me, Catholic Americans,
united to Him in baptism, filled with his Holy Spirit in confirmation,
strengthened by him in the Eucharist,
and taught by him through the Traditions and Scriptures
handed down to us from the Apostles.
Yes, we are often hard hearted ourselves; yes we are often weak in faith.
Like St. Paul in today’s 2nd reading, we all have some “thorn in the flesh”,
some sin or sins we struggle with.
But as Jesus tells St. Paul:
“My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.”
Our own weaknesses of faith or righteousness do not limit Jesus’ power:
there are no limits to Jesus’ power.
So, in the power of Christ, we must, weak as we are,
go out to a nation that has known the presence and power of Jesus
from its infancy,
and we must teach it his wisdom.
And “whether they heed or resist”, whether they “take offense” at us or at him,
whether they are hard of heart, or open in faith,
“they shall know that a prophet has been among them.”
How will America respond?
Is the American heart so closed, so hard, that no one will respond?
I don’t know.
But I do know that Jesus can change even the hardest of hearts.
And I see how so many of you Americans respond.
And I see how He has performed so many mighty works for us for the last 239 years
that I can’t help but think he would not waste all that
on a people he didn’t think he could reach.
America is like Nazareth because we have known Jesus from our infancy.
But America need not be like Nazareth in hardness of heart.
On this 4th of July weekend, let us pray that our Lord Jesus Christ
will continue to perform his mighty deeds for us, magnificent and simple.
And that He may grant us, you and I,
the grace to be prophets he calls us to be,
prophets of charity and truth and wisdom.
And that our fellow Americans will open their heart to Him,
and cease to “take offense at his teaching.”
God bless America.