“There can be no preaching in the wrong atmosphere.”
William Barclay (1907-1978)
This reading from Mark’s Gospel reminds us that God sends prophets into our midst for our benefit. The question is: Are we open-minded enough to listen to new ideas and insights, to allow our attention to be re-directed to things we have ignored or taken for granted? For instance: how have we listened to, implemented Pope Francis’ invitation to care for all of creation, human and non-human? Normally, papal documents are addressed to the bishops of the Church to disseminate and promote through their diocese. But, Pope Francis addresses his message directly to us, his friends, the people of God.
You’ve heard the expression: “You can’t tell a book by its cover.” All too often we judge the “cover.” We get so bogged down in appearances, in the humanity of the proclaimer that we refuse to listen to the proclamation. Who does she/he think she/he is?
You may have seen episodes of “America’s Got Talent” when you knew by the judges’ interaction with the performers that they were writing off this act before the contestant got started. Like the time when the three fellows looking like they’d just rolled out of bed came on stage. When they opened their mouths, spell-binding tenor music poured forth into the auditorium where hundreds, along with the judges, sat in stunned silence, open-mouthed, on the edges of their seats realizing what a terrible presumptive judgment they’d made.
Perhaps what is even worse is when we view ourselves in such a negative way that we say: “Who am I to tell anyone what to do or not do, when I know that often I do things far worse?” The reality is that every one of us, simply because of our baptism, has been called to be a prophet. There are some things over which we cannot compromise. There are times when silence is the best response we can muster; when words would not improve the silence. But there are many times when we cannot keep silent. We cannot be dissuaded by our own shortcomings. God will stand by us and give us what we need when we need it. Relax, draw a deep breath, and remind yourself: “I don’t have to act today with yesterday’s grace.” But we do need to remember if we fail to share the prophetic message of the Gospel, other louder voices will be happy to impose their godless vision on all of us. It never has been easy to be a prophet and it never will be. The message of the Gospel is challenging and sometimes controversial, but it’s a message that people (we) need to hear whether or not we want to hear it. And God promises a prophet’s reward for fidelity to our mission. On the other hand, if we prefer not to rock the boat, as Aristotle said “To avoid criticism…say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.”
This story of one day in the life of Jesus we learn that his trip to Nazareth was not a private family visit. He came for public ministry. Usually when the people heard Jesus speak, they were amazed. But, a lot of what he said confused his enemies. They couldn’t explain Him, so they rejected His message. They thought they knew everything about Him. They knew Him as a “just” common craftsman, just another boy from Nazareth. They voiced their thoughts: “You are no better than we are! Why should we listen to you?”
These people did what most people do when they cannot understand someone. They resorted to rejection, ridicule and the last refuge of a small mind: a tie-breaking put down! They did what was never done in that society! They insulted his mother calling him “Son of Mary.” A male was always referred to as the son of his father, even if his father was dead. To call a boy the son of his mother was to imply that His mother had been a harlot. Jesus was amazed that these people lacked faith. They had heard the truth, seen the truth and they still turned a deaf ear and a blind eye. As a result, He left Nazareth, and there is no record that He ever returned there.
We may sum up this lesson in the words of William Barclay: “There can be no preaching in the wrong atmosphere. The listeners are responsible for at least half of every sermon. In an atmosphere of expectancy, the least effort will catch fire. In an atmosphere of coldness or indifference, the most spirit-filled of sermons will fall flat.”
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB
Please pray for those in the path of the hurricane.
Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB