Fourth Sunday of the Year. Fr David Rocks shows how the story of Jesus’ rejection by his own people mirrors our own tendency to reject him.
And just as it was starting to go so well! He had returned among them in triumph – a local hero. They marvelled at the wonderful things he said among them. He was one of their own, he grew up among them and they knew his background. He shared their ups and downs, laughed with them; he was involved in the different aspects of their lives. Now he spoke with eloquence and graciousness. They could be rightly proud, a people who had raised such a man.
He told them that the words of hope they treasured in the Scripture were being fulfilled in their hearing. What beautiful, golden words. God was indeed very close to this people, in fact, they could touch him. That wonderful feeling – faith and hope being fulfilled in love. They were truly blessed to experience the blessing of God upon them. This is a treasure to be cherished.
But what happens when the blessing of God doesn’t quite fit in with our own plans? At least, not in the way we’d like. We want to have a close relationship with God. We want to feel his blessing –of course we do! But all very much on our own terms.
This Gospel is like a microcosm of the whole story. As the Prologue to the Gospel of John says: “He came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not.” (John 1:11). In a very small way, the townsfolk in the Gospel represent the whole of human history – rejecting God at the moment when his plan for us leads us in a direction we’d rather not travel.
He was one of their own, and they were more than happy to go along with him for a time. How often this happens in the life of Jesus – that people follow him and then go off in a different direction when things don’t suit. We come to him in the hope that he will fulfil our needs and realise our dreams. We’re not sure if we have much time for him if he doesn’t. But then, it’s hard for us to recognise what our real needs are. It seems almost impossible for us to rejoice completely in God’s love. Perhaps this is because we always want to keep something back for ourselves, to retain some control over our lives rather than suffering the indignity of ‘surrender’ to something else. Yet nothing we might cling to will serve us better than the complete freedom that God’s love offers us.
There is always a temptation for us to think we are superior to others. This danger is very present when we feel blessed by God. When Jesus spoke of blessings for foreigners and pagans in the presence of his own townsfolk, they turned on him and rejected him. Perhaps we might be tempted to feel superior to the townsfolk in the Gospel, or to others in our own time, because we are so close to God ourselves. When we feel that we possess God, things are beginning to go wrong. We can never possess God, rather he possesses us and that gives us our true dignity. The freedom he gives us to embrace his love so entirely also allows us to reject his love entirely. We can only truly dwell in his blessing if we embrace it with every fibre of our being.
Sometimes we so violently rupture our relationship with God that he seems so very distant that his love is entirely beyond our reach. Yet he recalls us constantly to return to the mystery of his saving love for us. Sometimes when our faith is weak, when our hope seems futile – sometimes it is then that we really experience his love as he gently calls us. God’s blessing appears in the most unlikely of places. His ways are not our ways.