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Fourteenth Sunday of the Year

Recognizing Jesus Christ

Today’s gospel describes what happened when Jesus went home to preach the gospel. Put simply, it was a disaster. The people recognised Jesus. They recognised Jesus’ wisdom. They even recognised that Jesus worked miracles. In sum, they managed to recognise a great deal of truth in Jesus’ preaching. However, instead of accepting Jesus’ message because of that evidence the people rejected Jesus because they knew Jesus’ background. The people recognised Christ as the son of a carpenter and then they concluded that they shouldn’t listen to him. Perhaps they thought Jesus should have stuck to carpentry. We just don’t know. Whatever the case they couldn’t or wouldn’t get past what they already knew about Christ to what else there might be to learn from him.

Now at one level it’s easy to see how the people of Jesus’ town might have gone wrong. Just because Jesus was the son of a carpenter, it doesn’t follow that therefore he couldn’t have knowledge about God or anything else for that matter. It might be then that the people just didn’t understand this. In effect, they made a mistake with their reasoning.

But the problem with that explanation is that the people manage to recognise a great deal of truth in Jesus’ preaching. It’s not that they are unsure and that what tips the balance for them is that Jesus was the son of a carpenter. On the contrary, the people recognise truth in Jesus’ preaching. They just reject Jesus because he was the son of a carpenter. What we’re dealing with here then is something much more serious than a mistake in reasoning. It’s the deliberate rejection of something one knows to be true. It’s the turning away from a good one recognises and accepts as desirable.

But to be fair these people aren’t the only ones who make this kind of mistake. From time to time, the disciples do as well. Just think, for example, of Peter denying Christ three times during the Passion, or Judas’ betrayal of Jesus or the disciples who fell asleep whilst Jesus was praying in the garden at Gethsemane and had asked them to stay awake. Finally, lest we be smug, let’s remember that we make the same mistake when we sin.

So how should we deal with this? Well we shouldn’t start by congratulating ourselves. Admittedly, the way we go wrong has nothing to do with knowledge of Jesus’ background, but that doesn’t get us off the hook. If the people of Jesus’ town use their knowledge of Christ’s background as an excuse to reject Christ and to ignore the good they recognise in his preaching, what we tend to do is use our expectation of what we would like Christ to be as an excuse to ignore elements of his preaching that don’t interest us. We tend to build a picture of Christ, fit him into it and then be highly resistant to anything that threatens that picture.

The problem with that though is Christ will never fit perfectly into our picture of him.

Christ offers us something completely new. Christ offers us the opportunity to be free from sin and to enjoy eternal life with God. That’s an offer which is entirely outside our experience. As a result, it’s a mistake on our part to suppose that the view we have of Christ and what he asks of us is perfect and that there is nothing more for us to learn. On the contrary, we need to be open to learning new things from Christ. What we need to do is let our views about Christ be moulded by what the gospel reveals about him. We have to be prepared to take a second look at our immediate impressions about Christ and allow ourselves to learn what else there might be there for us to learn. And most importantly of all, we have to be willing to apply what we’ve learnt to our lives. If we can do that then we’ll certainly be following the path of discipleship that Christ lays out for us. So let’s pray today for the grace to do just that.

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