The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
8 July 2018 at St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Churches in Naples, FL
Ezekiel 2, 2-5 + Psalm 123 + 2 Corinthians 12, 7-10 + Mark 6, 1-6
We are beginning a new chapter of Mark’s Gospel today. In the past weeks with chapter five we have seen an enormous momentum building as Jesus travelled throughout Galilee and beyond. His presence has been marked by healings, exorcisms, and even as we heard last week, the raising of a dead child. Crowds of people have experienced liberation, healing, and the tender compassion of Jesus. Now in chapter six all of that comes to a sudden stop. What demons, sickness, and death could not stop disbelief does. This is a greater obstacle. It is not that the power of Jesus is limited, but the people are hindered from experiencing his power by their unbelief.
The problem being experienced there is not confined to that place and that time. For lack of a better term, I’ll call the problem “Limited Religious Imagination.” In other words, Jesus was not acting right. They could not imagine that God might be revealed in someone so familiar, in a neighbor, in someone from Nazareth. They expected God to be revealed in the way Moses or Abraham experienced God. More simply put, they could not imagine the truth or the reality of the Incarnation. The whole idea that God might come and be revealed in the flesh and blood of someone who is just an ordinary and familiar neighbor was too much for them. They could not imagine this. Jesus would not fit into their religious imagination.
Ultimately, those people of Nazareth were stuck with the idea of their ancestors who begged Moses to tell God not to come too near lest they die of fright. They would rather have a God who was frightening and dangerous. When God became Man in Jesus Christ, it was too much for them. They refused to believe that God could be revealed through ordinary people and events. It is easy to have faith in a God who is distant and silent, a God who sits behind a veil in the Temple or for us, a God who is locked in a Tabernacle. But, let that God cry out as his son is nailed to cross, and it’s too much. Let the Body and Blood of that God be consumed by a neighbor or an enemy, and the challenge of becomes too much. Our imaginations and our expectations about how, when, and where God will be revealed have to be wide open, wide enough to believe that God could be revealed in a lowly son of a carpenter from Nazareth or be revealed in the man who is nailing shingles on the roof next door who comes from some foreign place or the man mowing our grass!
Sadly, every now and then, I am asked by people what I think about Pope Francis, and sometimes those people express displeasure about his leadership, style, and the things he says and does. Why? Because he does not fit their mold, their model of what the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter should act like. They remind me of the people of Nazareth. It’s not that they are bad, but they are going to miss something powerful and merciful because their imaginations are so limited.
My dear friends, there is another subtle part of the message in Mark’s Gospel that comes as a warning. The all-powerful God can be limited by human unbelief. We must learn from those people in Nazareth says St. Mark. The message of God’s nearness comes packaged in what looks very familiar. When that familiarity frightens or challenges us, calls into question the racism, ageism, or sexism of our age, we must take a look at and awaken our imagination because God’s ways are not our ways, and God’s voice may sound very familiar.