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Gospel Commentary: Amazing him

We can think of the reaction of a small town when one of their own returns to do a show in the school gym after achieving “rock star” status. It must have happened many times given the number of “stars” in our pop culture universe. No doubt the hometown hero always meets a mixed reaction coming home. It is easy to imagine the fans who have watched the star’s growing success lining up eagerly to be at the show. It is easy to imagine the critics who watch from a distance or refuse to attend. “He’s too big for us now. That’s not the music he played when he was here.” Much is determined by the attitudes people bring to their encounters with others.


We recall Jesus’ stunning success from last Sunday’s Gospel selection — a dramatic cure of a long-term illness followed by the raising of a little girl from the sleep of death. In the latter miracle we saw him dismiss from the home the grieving people who prefer to remain in their grief rather than to accept his saving words. In this, and in other moments, we learn that Jesus, for his part, responds with powerful and persuasive miracles to the few who are willing to believe. He has to accept that the attitudes of some people prevent them, at least temporarily, from the blessings he offers.


Jesus returns home to Nazareth in this Sunday’s Gospel passage. In pop culture terms it is like he has just returned from a successful tour. People in other places have welcomed and loved him. Word has spread that he is a man great in word and deed. He is working miracles and marvels and people are impressed by him. The news reaches his hometown. The locals are talking about it. Together they are reacting to his new success and they are forming opinions and attitudes. Then, as is his custom, he appears before them in the synagogue. The man whom they know has not had any formal preparation as a rabbi teaches them on the Sabbath. He is accompanied by his “band” of disciples. “ … and many who heard him were astonished. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands? Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” 


We know that Jesus had astonished his listeners before. The way he taught was impressive. What he taught was impressive. But this time they are more astonished that he, their fellow resident of Nazareth knows, says and does things they don’t think he can. “He’s one of us. How is he able to do all they say he’s been doing?” After they air their confusion (or their chosen attitudes) about him we hear the tragic words: “And they took offense at him.” They are tragic words because they mean that his own people will allow their collective attitudes to convince them not to believe him, nor to believe in him. He will not be honored at home. He won’t perform any mighty deeds for them — because of them.


“He was amazed at their lack of faith.” He knew them all since his childhood days and now he is amazed that they can’t or won’t believe. He knows us all since our childhood days too, but we aren’t from his hometown. Our attitudes can amaze him too. From us, though, believing him and welcoming him is what he can expect. It is better when we are amazed by him than when we cause him to have to be amazed by us.


Fr. Zuberbueler is pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018