01 February 2012

On not being stupid

4th Week OT (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

The crowds who witness Jesus' miracles recognize that he is preaching and teaching with a new authority. More than just another rabbi, just another prophet. He is something more than a local holy man or a snake oil salesman. Having been repeatedly surprised by the wisdom of his teaching, the crowds are frightened when he removes Legion of a man possessed and casts the unclean spirits into a herd of swine. Whoever this Jesus guy is, he's doing something entirely new, something entirely different. That is, until he makes a visit to his hometown. After he teaches in the synagogue, the local folks ask, “Where's he getting all this wisdom? He's done some mighty things! But isn't he just Mary's kid? Don't his brothers and sister live right here in town?” And b/c he is just a hometown boy to them, “they take offense at him” and show him no respect. What's interesting here is that they are at first astonished by his teaching, but then they talk themselves into being offended. What happens to them between leaving the synagogue and deciding that Jesus is just another Local Nobody? We don't have to stretch our imaginations too far to figure out that the sin of pride asserts itself and convinces them that no matter how astonishing his teaching might be, Jesus is just a local boy trying to show them up; thus, pride nurtures stupidity.

Because the people of Jesus' town will not receive him as a prophet, they cannot receive the gifts of wisdom and healing that he offers. Mark reports, “. . .he was not able to perform any mighty deed there. . .” Mark also notes that Jesus “was amazed at their lack of faith.” Why should he be amazed? Despite eye-witness testimony; despite their own astonishment at his teaching; despite the fact that they have the people Jesus healed living among them; despite every bit of evidence available to them, they refuse to give Jesus the honor due his words and deeds. They simply could not get past the fact that this amazing preacher, this wise teacher, this miracle worker was a hometown boy. In their pride-fogged minds, Jesus came home for no other reason than to show them up as rubes, and they are offended. But are they harmed? By neglect, yes. I mean, they were harmed b/c by taking offense they were unwilling to receive all that Jesus had to offer them. Their pride stood like a wall between disease and healing, between sin and salvation. That day, pride did its job well and the prideful suffered for it. 

The people of Jesus' hometown exhibit one of the deadliest symptoms of being infected with pride: thinking so highly of themselves that they refuse freely offered help. And not just any help but Divine Help! We might also say that pride serves as a cover for their own self-loathing. Isn't needing help a sign of weakness? Isn't asking for charity of any kind an admission of defeat? Jesus' offer of divine help sparks resentment: does he think we are children needing a father or mother to guide us? He's one of us! How dare he come in here and try to play the prophet of God! Pride is considered the worst of the cardinal sins precisely b/c it gives rise to all the other sins. Turning our faces from God and the Church and demanding to be left alone to live by our own wits is the height of stupidity. No one truly lives alone. No live lives at all without God. Faith, trust, like any good habit must be exercised or it becomes flabby. A spiritually flabby heart quickly becomes delusional, believing that it beats by human will alone. A truly faithful heart knows that it beats best when it follows the willful rhythm of the Lord's love and mercy. Do not let the Lord be amazed at your stupidity.


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