Gospel: Mark 6:1-6
Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio
Don Fabio’s homily follows the Gospel
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THE GOSPEL OF THE LORD: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ
Kieran’s summary . . . This Gospel reveals the shocking power of human incredulity to bring the work of God to a standstill. Don Fabio challenges us to be shaken by this text, and to take seriously the way in which our prejudices towards matters of faith can impede the work of God in our lives. The human being must never be reduced to his family background, occupation or social status. Our unbelief is one of the most fearful powers of the human being. It can completely frustrate the power of God. St Augustine said: "God who created you without your cooperation cannot save you without your cooperation" People who are poor and desperate are less likely to have a lack of faith. When we are weak or sick and aware of our misery, then we are more open to being touched by the healing hands of Christ. But when we consider ourselves to be autonomous and self-determining, the hardness of our hearts can be stupefying! We look around us at the state of the world and think that we have comprehended God and his nature totally! But who can comprehend the action of God! Even the greatest of the saints continued to be surprised by God right up to the last moment of their lives. We do not know the Lord Jesus completely and we must wait for him to reveal himself to us. Let us never think that we know the Lord Jesus! He is always something other. He is not simply the son of his mother, the cousin of his cousins, the labourer in his particular workshop. He is the Son of God active in our lives, and this defies all of our categories.
The human being must never be reduced to his family background, occupation or social status
The Gospel recounts the visit of Jesus to his hometown of Nazareth, where, on the Sabbath, he teaches in the Synagogue. At the beginning of the passage we discover that his listeners are astounded at the fact that he stands up to teach them. At the end of the passage it is Jesus who is astounded at them because of their incredulity. We tend to find it hard to believe in the work of God, to accept that a person might be something more than a child of his parents, to imagine that a man could be something other than his occupation. The human being naturally sees everything in very predictable and boring terms. "You are what you are. Don't come here putting on a big show. We know who you are and where you've come from, and that's all there is to you". Many people turn away from the faith because it doesn't fit in with their way of looking at things, but faith should never be limited to our way of looking at things! And through the eyes of faith a person should never be limited to his work, his occupation, or his family connections. The human being is something more than all of these things. Jesus is dumbfounded when he is confronted by this attempt to limit him and categorize him. He knew of the greatness, power and love of God. He knew the Father and was stunned by the hardness of his listeners' hearts.
Unbelief is one of the most fearful powers of the human being. It can completely frustrate the power of God
This situation means that Jesus is unable to exercise his power in the usual way and is only able to heal a few of the sick. It is interesting to note that in these conditions one can only accept the grace of Christ if one is in a desperate condition. When one is rich in spirit one cannot receive the Kingdom of God. How blessed are the poor in Spirit! One has to be sick and aware of one's sickness before one can be touched by the healing hands of Christ. The incredulity of the human being is one of the most terrible powers that he possesses. God is omnipotent, but he must stop in front of the closed door of human unbelief. St Augustine said, "God who created you without your cooperation cannot save you without your cooperation". Human assent is absolutely fundamental for the work of God to be successful. Human openness towards God is the essential condition for the work of God to be efficient in us. Part of our greatness and nobility resides in the fact that we can genuinely say no to God. We have the capacity to frustrate and sadden the Holy Spirit.
Sin is rooted in a lack of openness to the work of God in us
This extraordinary mystery is the mystery of sin, for sin is always an act of rejection of God. All sin is the refusal of the work of God in us, a refusal of his law, a refusal of his word. It involves a rejection of the truth that is apparent to us in the workings of our conscience. We reject that truth and say "This is what I believe, and this is how things are, full stop". We have a liberty that God cannot force. Even if we say yes to God once, God continues to respect that liberty. On the next occasion, we will have to exercise our liberty all over again in order to say yes to God once again. But once we say yes to evil, the next yes to evil can become automatic. As the Gospel of John tells us, he who commits sin becomes a slave of sin.
We must retain a complete openness to Jesus, never thinking that we know him fully, refraining from labelling him, or labelling any aspect of the life of the church, or our own past. Jesus gives new sense and meaning to everything.
Jesus is unable to work miracles in Nazareth because of the hardness of people's hearts. Why was there such hardness of heart? Because the people there thought they already knew Jesus through and through. Jesus was put in a box and labelled, and this prejudice impeded the power of God. This text thus reveals something to us that ought to shake us to the core! God can be frustrated by our attitudes! We can be in the presence of that which leads into paradise and yet never enjoy it! And why not? Because we are locked in prejudiced ways of looking at things that prompt us to say, "I know you already. You have nothing of interest to say to me".
The hardness of the human heart is stupefying. We cast a cold eye on the work of God and think that we have comprehended it totally! But who can comprehend the action of God! Even the greatest of the saints continued to be surprised by God right up to the last moment of their lives. We do not know the Lord Jesus completely and we must wait for him to reveal himself to us. Let us not put labels on the work of God, on the life of the church, on the sacraments, nor even on the events of our own past. Jesus will give new meaning and sense to everything. Let us never think that we know the Lord Jesus! He is always something other. He is not simply the son of his mother, the cousin of his cousins, the laborer in his particular workshop. He is the Son of God, and this defies all of our categories.