“Christ humbled himself; the Christian has his example to imitate.” – St. Augustine
Mark 6:1-6: Going from that district, he went to his home town and his disciples accompanied him. With the coming of the sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue and most of them were astonished when they heard him. They said, ‘Where did the man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted him, and these miracles that are worked through him? This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joset and Jude and Simon? His sisters, too, are they not here with us?’ And they would not accept him. And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations and in his own house’; and he could work no miracle there, though he cured a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith. He made a tour around the villages, teaching.
Christ the Lord Jesus Christ forces himself on no one. In him, God purposely limits his omnipotence in order to respect human freedom. He gives countless signs and indications that he is to be trusted, that he is who he says he is, but he refuses to give any evidence that will eliminate the need for trust and faith. He invites; he does not compel. He is a Lord who wages his wars by appealing to the heart, by showing love, and by speaking the truth, but if we refuse his advances, he will leave us free to go our own way. He wants followers who are friends, not slaves – a kingdom of freedom, not bondage.
If we as Christians truly respect and follow our Lord, we will exercise our discipleship in the same way. Instead of browbeating and cajoling others to follow Christ and accept his doctrine (and criticizing, condemning, and disdaining them when they refuse our advances), we will appeal to them on a deeper level, finding creative ways to show them how much Christ loves them and how satisfying and fulfilling it is to follow him, both now and forever. In this regard, the most eloquent and effective testimony is our own example of Christian love. The more we love others as Christ has loved us – serving ingeniously and without looking for recompense, being equally kind with everyone no matter how costly it is to our natural feelings, forgiving quickly and without conditions, always speaking positively and never gossiping, detracting, or destructively criticizing – the more his grace flourishes in our souls. Then virtue takes root and grows. Then we begin to experience in our own lives the happiness, peace, and “joie de vivre” Christ wants for us. That, in turn, attracts others to the Lord. We must invite those around us to follow Jesus more closely, but our words will be hollow if our lives are devoid of grace.
Christ the Teacher Jesus’ hardest mission field was his own backyard. His own family and neighbors, the people who knew him best on a strictly human level, rejected him. (By the way, the “brothers and sisters” mentioned by the evangelist here and elsewhere were not blood siblings – that would contradict the dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity. They were cousins. This is more explicitly shown in parallel passages where the same people are described as children of a different Mary. See, for instance, Matthew 27:56.)
If Jesus himself had such difficulty in bringing his nearest and dearest into the Kingdom, we should not be discouraged if we experience similar resistance from our closest relatives and friends. Many saints have had to endure opposition from mother and father, brother and sister in order to be faithful to God’s call in their lives; sometimes honoring our father and mother means opting to please God even if it displeases them. And even if our hearts suffer when others refuse to follow Christ, we should never give in to frustration or despair – even Jesus himself didn’t convert everyone he tried to.
Christ the Friend Jesus was “amazed at their lack of faith,” which made it almost impossible for him to perform any miracles. Sometimes we think that miracles, blessings, and spiritual consolations ought to be given to us to inspire us to believe – to take away the risk factor that comes with following Jesus. The opposite is the case. Christ appeals to us on a personal level, as a friend: inviting us to come and follow him, to get involved in his life and to let him get involved in ours. Then, once we have taken a step of faith, a step of trust, he will reward us with signs that confirm our faith and blessings that boost our trust. To demand assurances from God before following God is to treat Christianity like a business, not a friendship – like a contract, not a covenant.
Christ in My Life You have given me so much, Lord, and I can’t help wondering if because of your closeness and generosity I have let my faith wane. Maybe I am like your hometown companions: so familiar with you that I forget what a grace and gift your friendship really is. Never let me fall into routine, Lord, never let me be separated from you. Jesus, I trust in you; increase my faith…
How can I trust you more? What are you asking of me that I am not giving you? What worry do you want me to surrender? What fear do you want to uproot from my heart? Lord Jesus, guide me and teach me, so I can grow closer to you. With the knowledge of your heart, Lord, make my heart wise…
Your love is like a rushing fountain that nothing can stop. Maybe some people will refuse to come and take a drink, or will set up dams so the water doesn’t reach them, but your love keeps on flowing. I believe in the power of your love. Teach me, Lord, to welcome your love more and more into my life, and to love more and more as you love…
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.
Art: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Christ in the Temple, August Karl Seinsheim, circa 1810-1820, PD, Wikimedia Commons.