An old man is wondering if his wife had a hearing problem. So one night, while his wife is sitting in her lounge chair, he goes behind her and says softly to her, “Honey, can you hear me?” He gets no response. He moves a little closer and says again, “Honey, can you hear me?” Still, he gets no response. Finally he moves right next her and said, “Honey, can you hear me?” This time she looks up with surprise in her eyes and replies, “For the third time, Henry, Yes, I can hear you!” Who has the hearing problem now, the man or his wife? We are all too ready to blame the other person for a breakdown in communication when all the time we ourselves might be principally responsible for the situation.
In today’s gospel we read of a serious breakdown in communication between Jesus and his townspeople. It was so serious that Jesus was literally unable to perform any miracles there. “And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” (Mark 6:5).
This is one of the most shocking statements in all the Gospels – that Jesus could not perform miracles. Not that he would not but that he simply could not. Is anything impossible with Jesus? Today’s gospel says yes. It is impossible for Jesus to perform miracles in a situation where there is no faith. Jesus could do all things and wants to do all things for his people. But he needs our faith to release his power. Remember last week’s gospel of the woman with the flow of blood. Many people were touching and pushing against Jesus. Nothing happened because they did not touch with faith. But as soon as the woman of faith touches him, healing power comes out of Jesus. As all-powerful as Jesus is, we have the capacity to disable him by our lack of faith. Faith is like a switch that turns God on, lack of faith turns God off.
The people of Nazareth took offence at Jesus for his inability to perform miracles among them. Do you sometimes wonder at God’s silence and apparent inactivity in a world or corruption and injustice? But the really amazing thing, as far as Jesus is concerned, is the lack of faith among his people. “And he was amazed at their unbelief” (Mark 6:6). When we blame God for doing nothing while we suffer all things here below, does God perhaps blame us for our unbelief that has made it impossible for Him to act?
Why did his people not believe in him? Jesus says it is because “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house” (Mark 6:4). An equivalent modern saying would be, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” The people of Nazareth thought they knew everything there was to know about Jesus. They knew his family and educational background, and they were not impressed. This rejection of Jesus in Nazareth points to a truth in our lives: sometimes it is the people who are closest to us who do not understand us and will not support us.
It hurts deeply when those closest to us refuse to love us. Jesus endured that hurt. He also showed us how to respond to it. The last line of the gospel says, “Jesus made his rounds of the neighboring villages and continued to teach.” When he was rejected in Nazareth, Jesus did not let that rejection undermine his identity or value. He did not reject his calling. He did not wrap himself in self-pity. He moved on. He moved on to the neighboring villages and there continued to teach to those who would listen and to those who would respond.
In the same way if we were to experience rejection by those who are closest to us, we too are called to move on. We cannot make anyone love us, but we can refuse to allow rejection to dictate our future. We still have gifts to give. We still have people to love. We must believe that our gifts and love are real. So if the people who are closest to you all support you, be thankful. That is a tremendous gift. But if you find there is someone close who will not extend love to you, follow the example of Jesus. Move on. Give your gifts to those who will receive them. Share you love with those who will respond to it. Believe that there still is life and love to be found, even if it is not in your own hometown.
Today’s gospel is a sad story of people who met Jesus and left without a blessing. As we meet Jesus today in his word and in the sacraments let us resolve not to leave without a blessing. Let us renew our faith in him.