When I go to a place where I am not known, the first question I am often asked is “Father, where are you from?” I reply to this question not in words, but by pointing my thumb and looking upwards at the sky. The person who asks the question will look at my thumb and glance upwards and then respond, “Father, we have all come from heaven, but where are you from?” My response is to continue to point upwards without saying a word. One important reason why I do this is because of what we hear in the Gospel text of today.
The Jesus, who has come to his hometown, is a Jesus who has been mighty in word and deed. He is a Jesus who has exorcised a demon, healed numerous people including a leper, a paralytic, and a man with a withered arm. He is a Jesus who has calmed a storm, healed a woman with a hemorrhage and even raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. He is also a Jesus who has spoken mightily through his word and revealed in simple language that even the unlettered can understand the secret of the kingdom of God. Yet, when he comes to his hometown, instead of being welcomed like the mighty prophet that he has shown himself to be, the people respond with disbelief. This is, first of all, because they “know”. They “know” who Jesus is. They “know” where he comes from and what he is capable of. They cannot believe that this man, who is one of them, can be capable of all that he has done. They refuse to believe. This is made explicit in the statement, “… and they took offence at him”. Their negative response to Jesus had a tremendous impact on Jesus and on them. While, on the one hand, they rendered Jesus incapable, on the other hand, they missed out on all the graces they could have received if only they had remained open to the revelation that he was making. Thus, Jesus “could do not mighty work there”. However, this did not completely immobilize or paralyze Jesus. He continued to go to places where he was needed and taught.
A similar situation is addressed in the first reading of today. Ezekiel is asked to go to his own people and address them. He is to alert them of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple if they continue to live as they do. He is warned, however, that they are stubborn and impudent. He is warned that they are rude, disrespectful, and closed. Yet, the message has to be communicated and when it has, they will know what they have missed if they refuse to hear.
There are two dangers that the readings of today warn us about. The first is that of our familiarity with the Lord. Since we may be cradle Christians, we may tend to think we know everything about the Lord and thus, set limits on what he can and cannot do. This danger is pointed out to Paul in the second reading of today in which God instructs him to let God be God. He is a human and must trust that God’s weakness is stronger than his strength and that God’s foolishness is wiser than his wisdom. Paul realizes this and therefore can boast about his weakness because he trusts in God’s strength.
The second danger that we are warned about today is Stereotyping. Stereotyping people is common among many today. We stereotype on the basis of country, state, religion, and caste. We tend to categorize people on these bases and so, prejudge them much like the people of Jesus’ hometown did. We lump all of one kind together and look at them with prejudiced and jaundiced eyes. We do not give them a chance to reveal their uniqueness, because once we “know” where they are from, we think we “know” all there is to know about them. We close our minds and eyes and ears and refuse to see and hear. We refuse to change our opinion because of what we already “know”. “They are always like that”, “they will never change”, and “what else can you expect from them” are some of the responses which reflect this closed attitude. This kind of attitude leads to a loss on both sides. We lose out on the individuality of the person we have judged and he or she is not allowed to be the person that he or she is because “We know”. Be careful of saying “I know”. You may miss the Messiah.