Have you ever been misunderstood? When I reflect on the sufferings of Jesus, there are of course, the physical sufferings: the scourging, the crown of thorns, and most of all, the cross. Then there is the emotional pain: the agony in the garden, the denial by Peter, the betrayal by Judas, and the feeling distant from the Father.
But even before the events leading up to His Passion, death, and Resurrection, Jesus encountered various trials that many of us encounter. And one is being misunderstood. Reading the Gospels, we see how often Jesus came into conflict with the Pharisees and the scribes and the elders of the people. But in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is misunderstood by His relatives! They have heard that the crowd following Jesus has gotten so large that He doesn’t even have time to eat, and their response is not one of awe about the size of the crowd, or about what might be happening. Instead, they conclude that Jesus has gone mad, and they set out to “seize him,” presumably to bring Him home.
We’ll find out Jesus’ response in a couple of days. The challenge for us, I think, is to look at if there are times when we misunderstand Jesus, especially when we might be tempted to use our faith to justify our prejudices and attitudes toward other individuals or groups of people. While there are times when Jesus’ words and actions are most comforting and reassuring, there are times when Jesus’ words and actions still have the power to make us uncomfortable.
At those times we need to examine whether our attitudes towards others are taking us further from God. We have seen the effects of bigotry and discrimination not only on those who are the recipients, so to speak, but also on the perpetrators. Persisting in prejudice, I think, is part of the “dead works” mentioned in our first reading from Hebrews. And if we are willing to allow the love of Jesus to more deeply enter our hearts and lives, we can better understand what Jesus is calling us to, and we can be “cleansed,” in order to “worship the living God” in all we say or do.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.