“He was Amazed at Their Lack of Faith”
July 6, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Ezekiel 2:2-5) Reading II (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
Gospel (St. Mark 6:1-6)
In the Gospel reading today, Jesus tells us that a prophet is not without honor except in his own country and among his own kin. This we have all heard many times, and we know it is because Our Lord went to His native place in Nazareth and He was unable to work any miracles there except to cure a few sick people. Then there is a tragic line at the end and it says, “He was amazed at their lack of faith.” The only other statements that are similar to that are when we hear about Jesus Himself and the people are astonished and they are amazed at His teaching. Yet here it is exactly the other way around: It is Jesus who is amazed, not because of anything good, but because of the lack of faith that the people in His own native place had toward Him. They thought that because they knew Him they did not need to listen. He did not have anything to say to them because, after all, “We know who he is – this is the carpenter. This is the son of Mary. This is the brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon. We don’t need to listen to him. He doesn’t have anything new to say to us because he grew up with us.”
Now when we put that into our own context, we recognize that we now are the family of Jesus. We have been baptized into Him; we are His own kin. We call God our Father and we can call Mary our mother. Therefore, most of us, if we were baptized as little babies, grew up with Him. Week after week and even day after day, we have heard the Gospel read. We have heard homily after homily. And I dare to ask, how much has it changed our lives? How much has the Gospel really infiltrated the depths of our hearts? You see, we have heard it over and over again. Just like the people of Nazareth, most of us have decided that Jesus is kind of a nice guy but He really doesn’t have much to say to us. “Change my life in order to be like the Gospel? No. What would people think? What would the neighbors say if I really started to live like Jesus? If I really lived my Catholic faith day in and day out, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, what would people think? My own family would think that I have gone crazy. The neighbors wouldn’t want to talk to me.” What is more important after all: fitting in with Jesus or fitting in with the neighbors? I think most of us have already cast our ballot, and sadly it has been for the neighbor and not for the Lord.
Regardless of our response to Our Lord, as He spoke to the prophet Ezekiel, He was sending Ezekiel to a rebellious house. And regardless of whether they wanted to listen to His word or not, he was to preach it. He was to speak in that prophetic utterance, Thus says the Lord, saying, “This is not my opinion; this isn’t me just standing here telling you what I think. This is the Lord speaking: ‘Thus says the Lord’.” Then the Lord goes on to warn him that this is a rebellious house, but they will know that a prophet has been among them. What that means is that on the Day of Judgment they are going to have to answer because God sent them a prophet and they know it. They are going to have to answer for what they did with the word that the prophet spoke.
We have far greater than a prophet among us. We not only have the words of one of the servants of the Lord, we have the words of God Himself. We do not need to say, “Thus says the Lord,” because all we have to say is, “Jesus said,” and He is the Lord. The question, though, is how much we want to hear what He says because we are a rebellious house. But each one of us knows that the Gospel has been preached, and each one of us is going to be responsible on the Day of Judgment to answer to the Lord for what we did or did not do according to the word that we have heard. So we need to look at this again, and we need to ask ourselves when we put it into that context, “Whom do I wish to serve? Am I going to put God first? Or am I going to be more concerned about what everybody else thinks? Having heard the Word of God, am I willing to change my life in accordance with it, knowing that it is the Word of God and not some human opinion? Or do I want to be like the Israelites and say, ‘We want to be just like everyone else’?”
When they asked God to give them a king, God said to them, “I am your King,” and they said, “We don’t want You as our King. We want to be just like everyone else.” Jesus Christ is our King. He is Lord. He is the Master. How many of us look at Him and say, “We don’t want You to be our King. We don’t want You to be Lord and Master. We don’t even want You to be our God. We want to be just like everyone else.” We have been warned. We are a rebellious house, a stiff-necked people. But the Lord has come to His own people and, sadly, among us He has not been able to do a whole lot because He is amazed at our lack of faith. But I would recommend that each one of us take heed of the words in the Scriptures. Maybe we need to get down on our knees and repent of the fact that we have not wanted to hear them, that we have not wanted to change our lives to live according to the words of Jesus Christ Himself. We need to beg for the grace to cooperate with Him.
Now we need to put that then into the context of the second reading, not because we are so elated because of all the extraordinary things that have happened – in fact, quite different from that – but, nonetheless, what comes at the end of the second reading is what we need to pay attention to: It is when I am weak that I am strong. If we are going to do things the way God wants us to do them, we are going to have to be stripped of our selfishness, of our sinfulness, of our thinking that we know the better way, that we have got the cat by the tail. The Lord is going to have to let us see this completely arrogant attitude that we have that we do not really need to listen to His word and we do not really need to change our lives and we do not need to become like Him because we are content being just like everyone else. “After all, everyone’s going to heaven so why change my life anyway?” We think that we are strong; we think that we do not really need the Lord. And as long as we think that we do not need Him, we do not let Him in. We keep Him at an arm’s distance, basically saying to Him, “When I’m in trouble then I’ll ask You for help; otherwise, stay out of my life. Leave me alone. Don’t bother me. I don’t want to change and I don’t want to hear what You have to say.” We need to invite Him in, and what He will show us is that this strength that we think we have is our greatest weakness and what we would perceive as weakness is our greatest strength because it is only when we are willing to acknowledge our weakness that we will actually turn to Him, that we will learn to depend upon Him. Otherwise, we think that we can do it ourselves and we have no room for Him.
So each one of us, I would recommend, needs to look very carefully at the words that are in the readings today. And we need to ask ourselves, “Have I been a rebellious house? Have I been a rebel among rebels? Have I listened to the Word of the Lord and have I changed my life in accordance? Or would the Lord look at me and be amazed at my lack of faith?” Regardless of our answer, we know that the prophet has been in our midst; indeed, one far greater than the prophet – the One Whose prophetic office is shared by the prophets. He has spoken. When it comes to the places where He did the majority of His work – Corazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum – He condemned them for their lack of faith and said, “If the works that have been done in you were done in Sodom and Gomorrah, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes.” What about us? Not only have we heard the Word of God, we have consumed the Word of God every time that we have received Holy Communion. We have taken Him into ourselves. We have shown Him by our actions at church that we want to receive Him, that we want Him in our hearts and in our lives, that we have our hearts entirely open to Him. What do we do as soon as we walk out of church? Do we keep the heart open to Him or do we slam it shut? Do we let Him know that we want Him in our lives or are we offended by Him because we think we know Him? “After all, this is the carpenter, the Son of Mary and Joseph, the One Who grew up with us, the One Who is there 24 hours a day. I don’t really need to pay attention because He’s always there anyway. I need to pay attention to the things that are far more important. After all, the primetime TV show only comes on once a week; Jesus is here everyday. So it’s far more important that we watch TV than we spend time with the Lord because that is much more rare.”
Where are our priorities? I think if Jesus were to come down to His Church today, He would be amazed at our lack of faith and He would not be able to work very many works among us because we do not believe, because we do not let Him in. We have been a rebellious house, but we know that He has been among us. And we will all need to answer to it. So we need to take heed of His call, of His voice, and respond in accordance with His command.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.