03 August 2012

Shame the Devil

17th Week OT (F)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Jesus' neighbors openly question his credentials as a prophet b/c he's a local boy. If we focus on this part of the story, we risk overlooking a truly puzzling step in their reaction. We have to smash together two sentences to see this puzzle clearly. Here they are: “Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds?. . .And they took offense at him.” Do you see the puzzle? Jesus' neighbors confess that he is teaching wisdom and doing mighty deeds. And this offends them! Rather than be grateful for his imparted wisdom and his healing miracles, they choose to be offended that a local boy would come home and. . .do what? Show them up as rubes? Flash his divine power around? Demonstrate how much he's learned? What are they upset about? On what grounds are they offended? It would seem that they are unconvinced that Jesus is who he says he is. It would seem that they are put off by what they see as his boasting. But there's more here than that. What if they are offended b/c they know he's the Real Deal and having the Son of God as a long-lost neighbor and a current visitor is deeply, deeply unsettling? 

Sometimes it's easier to find a natural explanation for a miracle. Sometimes it's just simpler to write off a bit of uttered wisdom b/c the one uttering it is probably crazy. Sometimes it is more comforting to look for hidden motives or psychological explanations to dismiss a friend's conversion or a relative's experience of the divine. Familiarity, they say, breeds contempt. Knowing someone well often tempts us into quickly discounting a real change in that person. Oh, he's just having a streak of bad luck, so prayer is the only thing he's got left. She's a Jesus freak now b/c her husband left her, and Jesus is the only one who'll have her. He just wants to be a priest b/c he doesn't want to work for a living. Could it be, just possibly, that a streak of bad luck has served to show this guy how necessary it is to stay in touch with God? Could it be that this poor woman is giving her grief to Christ as a sacrifice? Could it be that that young man is truly called to serve the Church as a priest? Of course, it is! But if we allow familiarity to breed and nurture contempt, we risk rejecting two very real possibilities: 1). that God can and will move us to repentance and contrition; and 2). we can find ourselves so moved, and radically changed. Do we really want to gamble against God and His will that we be converted? 

What happens when contempt prevents us from trusting in God and His promises? Matthew tell us, “[Jesus] did not work many mighty deeds [in Nazareth] because of their lack of faith.” No faith, no mighty deeds. So, not only does contempt for God and His works demean those upon whom He chooses to work His mighty deeds, it also prevents the rest of us from receiving the inevitable graces of those deeds. Will contempt and scorn feed us, heal us, or free us? Doubtful. In fact, we can just about count on hearing this day's prophet proclaim, “I will. . .make this the city to which all the nations of the earth shall refer when cursing another.” When we strain ourselves looking for the answer that allows us to dismiss God's work, or confirms us in our current rebellion, we are straining against the tide of God's will for us; we're rowing against the flow of His desire to see us reconciled in Christ. If you witness a mighty deed of the Lord, or hear His gracious wisdom uttered, stop and give Him thanks. Look for no other explanation than the only one that matters to your eternal goals. And even if you were right to show contempt for a fraud, you will have shamed the Devil with an act of love. 

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1 comment:

  1. I've been riding with the first readings this week, prophet Jeremiah, they have been my step-off point for prayer, so I have enjoyed your reflections on the Gospel readings the last couple of days. This one I had to read through a couple of times, though, to really gather in your point.

    I have encouraged my older son to ask God what He wants him to do with a certain situation, and the other day I asked him how that was going. He hasn't gotten an answer yet, but he did "hear" - "Would that you knew how much I love you." Indeed, do any of us truly know how much God loves us? I thought of this conversation with my son when I read: "If you...hear His gracious wisdom uttered, stop and give Him thanks. Look for no other explanation than the only one that matters to your eternal goals."

    Thanks, Father.