First Reading: 1 Ez 2:2-5
Psalm: 123:1-2, 2, 3-4
Second Reading: 2 Cor 12:7-10
Gospel: Mk 6:1-6
In a survey by the Wall Street Journal asking 10,000 people “What is your greatest fear?” the answers indicated that the third greatest fear was of death, and the second was loneliness. What was significant is that the greatest fear of all was that of failure.
Failure is a powerful and problematic experience for all of us. It touches us at our core and often saps our energy and clouds our perception of reality. Fear of failure often overwhelms people today, paralyzing them, keeping them from potential for change and growth.
It is important, therefore, that Mark’s Gospel shows how Jesus was met with rejection when he came to preach in his hometown of Nazareth to demonstrate how Jesus was quite familiar with the experience of rejection and failure.
In fact, Mark immediately follows his account of this incident with Jesus’ instructions to his disciples as he sent them to preach the kingdom. In those instructions he states that they may not always be blessed with success and positive responses to the Gospel message. Here Mark shows, through the construction of his narrative, that he was well aware of the issue that might easily challenge and discourage the future mission of the Church.
Why the rejection and hostility of the people of Nazareth? Was it because of his message? His message was the Gospel, the good news. In fact, Jesus was announcing a year of favor – the Jubilee Year – quoting the prophet Isaiah as Luke’s Gospel tells us, Jesus read:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives. Recovery of sight to the blind, and release to prisoners to announce a year of favor from the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).
Then he announced, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). This last statement links the passage from the prophet Isaiah to Jesus’ own works and teaching. He has come to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah.
To the people of Nazareth, the message may be acceptable, but the medium was not. Who is this Jesus, who is proclaiming the message? Why, he is just a village craftsman. They grew up with him. They knew his family and relatives. They bought plows, yoke, and other tools from him. He was just one of them. How dare him making such outrageous claims.
To make matters worse, Jesus challenges their narrow nationalistic understanding of God’s favor by citing the two historical examples of God favoring the pagans over the Israelites – the widow of Sarephath, whom God favored with a miracle over the many widows in Israel, and the healing of Naaman, the Syrian leper over the many lepers in Israel.
This statement of Jesus in effect challenges their traditional way of thinking. So, instead of listening to the prophetic voice of Jesus, they tried to silence him.
From this Gospel passage, we can see that what we are called to do by Jesus regarding the nature of discipleship is to persevere. There is no more certain route to failure than to give up too quickly and allow self-pity and self-centeredness to take over.
There is no escape from mission, and even when people do not seem to want to hear, we are expected to go on. Even if we are not responsible for those who stubbornly refuse to listen to the Gospel, we cannot be excused from our task. For it is God, who sends us out, and it is God, who is ultimately rejected or accepted. The message we are to proclaim is the focus, not our need for success to bolster our pride and self-esteem.
We are called to bring the love and hope of the Gospel in every area of our lives in whatever form is possible and practical. There is no turning away from the responsibility that is ours, and leave God to do what God alone can deal with.