163. Troubles at Home (Luke 4:22-30)

If you search for the reason why a man loves God, you will find no other reason at all, save that God first loved him. St. Augustine

Luke 4:22-30: And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips. They said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’ But he replied, ‘No doubt you will quote me the saying, “Physician, heal yourself” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside.”’ And he went on, ‘I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country. There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land, but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town. And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.’ When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away.

Christ the Lord In the sermon Jesus has just finished giving to the hometown synagogue-crowd he explained that he was the Messiah. He identifies himself with the Savior that the prophets foretold would come to restore Israel’s greatness and fulfill God’s promise of an everlasting Kingdom under the rule of David’s son. Unfortunately, the people of Nazareth were expecting something a bit more dramatic from the Messiah. They were hoping for military might and political glory, not wisdom from the lips of a carpenter’s son. And so they reject his claim. It is a pattern that history will repeat countless times. Few people question Jesus’ claim to be the Lord, but many reject him because they find his Lordship uncomfortable. They don’t want him to be their Lord.

We need to ask ourselves continually: am I satisfied with Jesus’ style of leadership? Am I willing to accept his way of saving humanity and making me a saint – the way of patience, mercy, self-giving, and suffering? Unless we consciously keep the Lord’s criteria in mind, especially through prayer and study, we may easily fall prey to devilish whispers that encourage us to branch out on our own instead of banking on the one Lord of life and history, who loved us and gave himself for our happiness, both here on earth and forever in heaven.

JesusChristMiracleHitdaCodexHealingOfAManWithAWitheredHandChrist the Teacher To receive God’s grace we need to be open to it. One of the great obstacles to that openness is routine and familiarity. The people of Israel became so accustomed to the remarkable favors that God showered upon them (like parting the Red Sea and feeding them with manna in the desert), that they began to take him for granted. Foreigners (like Naaman the Syrian and the widow of Zarephath), however, were not used to experiencing God’s miracles, and did not take the supernatural for granted. Consequently, they were open to the action of God; their humility and faith allowed his grace to work.

The citizens of Jesus’ hometown made the same mistake Israel had made. They refused to believe that God could work among them through one of their own; they had become so used to Christ that they became incapable of putting supernatural faith in him, even when he showed by his words and miracles that he was worthy of such faith.

We can also make this mistake. We can take God’s truly marvelous actions for granted, closing ourselves off from the grace they afford. It takes effort on our part not to fall into routine and boredom at Mass – the most remarkable event that takes place in the world today. It takes faith and humility to appreciate the gift of the Church and its Magisterium, a sure guide through the oppressive moral fog of our times. It takes childlike trust to find God supernaturally at work in the simple symbols of the sacraments and in the people his providence has put alongside us – a spouse, a spiritual director, a boss…. The more we fall into a merely superficial, going-through-the-motions type of faith, without concentrating and putting our whole mind and strength into it, the more exposed we are to the danger of falling into routine. Only heartfelt prayer and humility will enable us – like Mary – to give Christ a fresh welcome into the hometown of our hearts every day.

Christ the Friend John: I often wondered why Jesus didn’t claim his rights. He could have – there were many times when I wanted him to. If he had stayed more aloof in public, perhaps more people would have believed in him – people are funny that way. If he had insulated himself behind hundreds of servants and deputies and courtiers, letting himself be seen and heard only on the rarest of occasions and performing an impressive miracle every once in a while, he would have appealed more readily to the human appetite for sensationalism. But he didn’t do it that way. He wanted to walk among his people, to touch and heal their diseases, to hear their stories and speak to them of his Kingdom, to be with them. How he loved to be among people! That was always his desire. He always risked being rejected as ordinary in order to be accepted as a friend. When my turn came to go out and spread the good news, I thought to myself: If that’s the way our Lord did it, then that’s the way his followers should do it as well.

Christ in My Life To be completely honest, Lord, I have to admit that I am often weighed down by problems – problems in the world, problems in my own life, problems in my family. I know that you have chosen to save us by meeting us in the midst of our problems, but I also know that not all suffering is necessary, healthy, or desired by you. Help me to see the difference, so I can live in your peace…

I never want to fall into an empty routine. I never want my faith to dim or my love to grow cold. Only you can keep my commitment fresh, Lord. And any of your followers who are just going through the motions, or who are giving into selfishness – I pray for them now. Especially your priests and consecrated souls. Keep their love fresh; stir their hearts with your wisdom and zeal…

You have given me such a treasure in my Catholic faith. Show me how to share it. Often I don’t know when to speak and when to stay silent. I don’t know what others are thinking or suffering. But you do. You know exactly what everyone needs. Guide me; give me courage and simplicity. Make me a channel of your peace…

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. The Healing of the Man with a Withered Hand, unknown artist Hitda-codex, about the year 1000-1020, PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, “Inside the Passion”–the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: “The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer”. His most recent books are “Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength”, and “Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions”. Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

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