Memorial of Saint Paul Miki and Companions
Hebrews 12:4-7, 11-15
It was early Friday evening and people were headed to the local synagogue. The space was packed, standing room only. Extra benches were needed along the walls. Jesus was coming back to his home town and home sanctuary, and he was going to be the preacher that evening. The people heard about his popularity, his preaching skills, his miracles, and now they wanted to see for themselves. Mark tells us that some were astonished by what they heard. However, many were offended. They complained, "Isn’t this the son of Mary who lives down the road? Isn’t this simply the carpenter’s kid? And aren’t those his brothers and sisters standing there? He is just a familiar kid from Nazareth. You know, the kid who helped feed the donkeys and drew water from the well. Nothing special about him!" Because Jesus was so ordinary in their eyes, "they took offense at him." That is the key word: offense. In Greek, it is skandalon, from which we get the word, "scandal" or "stumbling block." Jesus was a stumbling block because he was so ordinary.
The hometown folk couldn’t believe that one of their own children could actually be a special person, a prophet. The people weren’t ready to accept him. "Come on. No way could he be a prophet. Not little Jesus of Nazareth. Not the little Jesus boy that we used to go fishing with and swimming with and hiking with. Not the little neighborhood boy who delivered our papers. How could God come to us in such a common and ordinary way?"
Perhaps this is a case of "familiarity breeds contempt." Unfortunately, we, too, can find it difficult to receive the truth from those who are closest to us: parent, spouse, friend, coworker, brother or sister. We are "offended" that God would come to us through such common and ordinary people. It would be better and more effective, we say, if God came in obvious and miraculous ways. If only the hand of God were obvious in our lives, everything would be clearer and simpler. We would all believe in God. Gone would be the doubts of faith. But God consistently talks to us in common ways and through ordinary people, so much so, that we often don’t hear the voice of God.
The Incarnation: that God would come in the flesh of a man they knew, a man by the name of Jesus, was offensive! That is pushing it. And that is what so deeply offended the people of Nazareth. So hostile is Nazareth’s opposition that Jesus "marveled because of their unbelief."
Let us pray today that we seek God in the everydayness of our lives, that we can discover holy places in the ordinary. Thérèse of Lisieux expresses the ordinariness of God’s presence in the words: "Everything is grace."
In February of 1597, a group of native Japanese Catholics and foreign missionaries were a stumbling block to local government officials. These martyrs saw the world differently because they believed God was present to them in their ordinary lives. With the Catholic Church we honor the memory of the twenty-six Martyrs of Nagasaki.
Fr. Don Webber, C.P., is Provincial Superior of Holy Cross Province and resides in Chicago.