Fourteenth Sunday of the Year. fr John O’Connor shows us how in Jesus Christ we find acceptance.
I remember hearing a radio programme where someone made the following remark: “You know, to grow up knowing that you are loved and accepted is an enormous birthright.”
I do not claim to have great experience in such matters, but I have enough to be able to say that people’s experiences of having been loved or not having been loved, of having been accepted or not having been accepted, can have a major impact on the shape of our lives. Such experiences could be in childhood and in the family; or as adults when relationships flourish or break down. And sometimes it can happen that those who have experienced love and acceptance throughout their lives can find themselves in their later years forgotten and alone.
In the Gospel reading for this Sunday, Jesus returns to his people and teaches in their synagogue, but he is rejected by them.
It does not seem to be because of his words that Jesus is rejected. The people who reject him do not even discuss what he has taught them. Maybe it was out of social snobbery, or maybe it was out of the petty jealousy that Jesus was one of them but he is able to teach with an authority that they could not hope to possess? There are some clues in the text, but, in the end of the day, the Gospel does not try to give us a full explanation.
Perhaps there is an important insight here. In the face of rejection and lack of love, our need for explanation can be strong. But sometimes there might not be clear explanations to hand to help resolve it all. I’ve even heard people speaking about childhood rejection by parents, and so desperate are they for an explanation that they come to the conclusion that it must have been their fault, even though they were just children at the time. But, of course, it wasn’t their fault, just as it wasn’t Jesus’s fault. No matter what wonderful teaching Jesus gave, no matter what great works he performed, there were some people who were pretty much going to reject him anyway.
Part of the pain of not having been loved or having been rejected is that so often we are unable to provide an explanation for it, some key to make sense of it. And so in the absence of explanation, healing sometimes comes from quite simply being able to share the pain with another, talking it through. To listen to another person’s pain is to show them love and to show them acceptance. To be listened to by another is to receive love and to receive acceptance.
Which brings us to prayer. Many people struggle with prayer, but I suggest to you that we will never really get to grips with prayer unless we bring our deepest wants and needs to prayer. It is of great importance to be honest before God about ourselves and what we want and what we fear. If personal prayer is too abstract or general, then it is unlikely to help open the heart. It might be to ask God to solve some problem or to overcome some difficulty. But it might simply be to bring whatever hurts or grieves us into God’s presence.
“Pray as you can, not as you cannot,” and so different people will pray differently. But somewhere in all this we should tell God what hurts and grieves us in plain and unvarnished words, and place these things in God’s hands and ask for healing and strength. We might not have all the explanations to give to God, but we can trust God to hear us and to understand, to love and accept us. And as the prayer develops and grows, we can learn to listen to what God has to say in reply in the depths of our hearts.
The Gospel reading for this Sunday reminds us that Jesus knew what it was for people to refuse to show him love and to reject him. And so when we place our hurt and pain in God’s hands, we bring them to a God who is not distant from human experience, but a God who in Jesus Christ experienced these things and who loves us with an infinite love.
No matter what we have suffered, no matter how much we have been loved or not loved, accepted or rejected, in the God revealed in Jesus Christ we are never alone, we are never turned away, and we are always loved.
Readings: Ezekiel 2:2-5|2 Corinthians 12:7-10|Mark 6:1-6