01 February 2006

Can't go home again...

4th Week OT (Wed): 2 Sam 24.2, 9-17; Mark 6.1-6
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

At Christmas, my sister-in-law, Marilyn, asked me: “How does it feel different being a priest?” Before I could give a moderately profound answer, my mother’s voice came from the kitchen, “He loves it! He gets to be a Big Shot!”

When I go back home to Mississippi I am “David” and “Dave.” Not “Father” or “Father Philip.” I am just the chubby blonde kid who read too many sci-fi novels, avoided as much outdoor work as I could, and rode off to my high school job at McDonald’s every afternoon. I am not the former college English teacher, the 41 year-old Roman Catholic priest, or the Dominican preacher with four university degrees. I am just David. Son of Glenn and Becky. Brother to Andy, brother-in-law to Marilyn, and uncle to Megan and Melanie. Home is where I end up to be who I always was.

Jesus goes to Nazareth, his hometown, with his students and teaches in the synagogue. Like every other place he’s been, the people who hear him preach and teach are astonished at his wisdom, truly awed by his mighty deeds. That astonishment and awe are short-lived, however, when someone remembers Jesus from his days among them as a carpenter’s son, the son of Mary, the brother of James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. Once they realize that he’s a local boy, they take offense at his apparent pretense. They knew him as a boy, knew him as a teenager, and now they cannot see him as the Christ. They take offense. And cannot believe.

Jesus is amazed at their lack of faith. This does seem astonishing to me. Think back over the last week and remember that there were all sorts of creatures recognizing Jesus for who he is: the unclean spirits ordered by Jesus to silence, the legion of demons he tossed into the swine, and Jairus whose daughter Jesus healed. All knew him and he was able to provide miraculous healing, evidence of the Father’s favor and his own power as the Christ. But the Nazarenes knew him as well. And this made no difference to their belief. Why?

Jesus says that it is because a prophet has no honor among his own kin and in his own house. We find it difficult to accept that the divine is knowable to us through the ordinary, through the plainly familiar. We cannot know God fully as He Is through any created medium, of course; but He does reveal Himself to us in creation, in his creatures. And each of us is a unique revelation of the Triune God, an exceptional showing of the Divine for others.

With all of our flaws, faults, defects and problems, we shine out to the world what happens when a creature, a human creature, takes seriously the promise of salvation, chooses to live a life in Christ, and takes on the apostolic charge to be the traveling salesman of God, His itinerant preacher, His compassionate healer. We have to see Jesus as an alien, a foreigner, before we can accept him as a brother, our Savior—good practice for allowing those odd sorts, those strangers and outsiders to do their work in revealing Christ to us.

Jesus is amazed at their lack of faith! Would he be amazed at our faith? Would he be astonished at how well we’ve come to learn and live everything he’s taught us? Faith is the habit of trust, given to us by God and nurtured by our cooperation with Him. Faith is given and grown. Never earned or sold. Faith is what makes the radically alien, the otherwise foreign, knowable, approachable, and lovable.

Jesus is the carpenter’s son. He is the son of Mary and brother to James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. He is at home here. And we cannot fail to do him honor.


  1. Father Mark Daniel Kirby, O.Cist.8:23 AM

    Dear Father Philip, I do so enjoy reading your homilies! Here is mine for today: O admirabile commercium! (I preach daily to enclosed OSB nuns and their guests; my approach is adapted to their reality.)

    2 Samuel 24: 2, 9-17
    Psalm 31: 1-2, 5, 6, 7 (R. cf. 5c)
    Mark 6: 1-6

    February 1, 2006
    Monastery of the Glorious Cross, O.S.B.
    Branford, Connecticut

    The core of today's Gospel is in Our Lord's own words to the people assembled in the synagogue: “A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house” (Mk 6:4). Jesus evokes three concentric circles: his own country, his own kin, and his own house. This is the triple context of his rejection.
    Now return to the first line of today's Gospel: “He went away from there and came to his own country” (Mk 6:1). Jesus crosses over into the first circle, that of “his own country” (Mk 6:1). He begins to teach in the synagogue. His preaching unsettles the crowd. They respond with four antagonistic questions: “Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands? Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” (Mk 6:2-3). The second circle is that of Jesus' own kin.
    The synagogue is the third circle, and Our Lord himself calls it “his own house.” The rejection of Jesus and of his teaching in the context of the synagogue is bitterly ironic. In Hebrew the synagogue is called beit k'nesset, literally, house of assembly. The assembly unites around the Word of God. The Word of God calls the assembly into being, sustains it, and makes the beit k'nesset a beit tefilah, a house of prayer. The Word of God is the principle of the assembly's unity.
    Christ the Eternal Word stands in the midst of the assembly. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church” (Col 1:17-18). By refusing to put their faith in Jesus and his teaching, the assembly disintegrates; it falls back into chaos. Where there should be unanimous praise and supplication there is wrangling and dissension.
    Saint Mark says, “And they took offense at him” (Mk 6:3). The literal meaning of the Greek is: “and they were scandalized in him,” meaning, “they found him to be a stumbling block.” They could not get past their narrow perceptions and petty prejudices. Jesus speaks to them directly: “A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house” (Mk 6:4). Saint John puts it this way in the Fourth Gospel: “He came to his own people, and his own people received him not” (Jn 1:11).
    The saddest part of the whole episode is that Our Lord's merciful designs are frustrated by the lack of faith. His all-powerful hands are tied. Saint Mark says: “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them” (Mk 6:5). What might Jesus have done there had he been welcomed instead of rejected? What might he have done had he found faith instead of mistrust, and docility instead of pride What might he have done had he found the willingness to change instead of an obstinate clinging to the comfortable and familiar?
    Saint Mark closes this narrative with a remarkable sentence: “And he marveled because of their unbelief” (Mk 6:6). There are other passages in the gospels where Jesus marvels at belief, where he rejoices in a great faith. Jesus marveled at the faith of the centurion and said to the disciples, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel, have I found such faith” (Mt 8:10). But here he marvels at the unbelief of those around him. He is astonished that they are refusing him, closing their hearts to his message and, by their lack of faith, limiting the works of his merciful hands.
    And so, where do we stand? The “country” of Jesus has become the whole world; his “brother, and sister, and mother” (Mk 3:35) are those “who hear the Word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:28); his house is “where two or three are gathered in his name” (cf. Mt 18:20). “There am I,” he says, “in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20). If, by faith, we open ourselves to Christ, there are no limits to what his mercy will do in us and for us. If, by lack of faith, we choose to wrangle about his divine credentials and reject his message, there is little that he can do among us.
    In a few moments Christ will be present under the appearances of bread and wine on the altar. How will we respond to his adorable presence in our midst? How will we receive his Sacred Body and Precious Blood? Saint Thomas makes the distinction between receiving the sacrament of the Lord's Body and Blood and receiving the fruit of the sacrament, that is, its full effect in us. Yes, Christ is really, truly, and substantially present in the Most Holy Eucharist. Yes, we receive his Body and Blood in Holy Communion. In some of us, Holy Communion is wonderfully transforming; the effects of Holy Communion are deep and lasting. In others the effects of Holy Communion are limited; the hands of Christ can be bound by our own resistance to his grace, even while he indwells us sacramentally. Was not this the situation in the synagogue? Christ was present, speaking and willing to act, but “he marveled because of their unbelief” (Mk 6:6). Welcome Christ. Beg him to act in you, not according to the weakness of your faith, but according to the greatness of his mercy. And, with the Angelic Doctor, say to the Father: “Grant me grace, I beseech thee, to receive not only the sacrament of our Lord's Body and Blood, but also its inward power and effect.”

  2. Fr. Kirby,

    Great homily. I really like this approach.

    You should consider setting up your own blog! It's really very easy.

    Fr. Philip