My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,1
In the Gospel we have just heard, Jesus is coming home.
We know that at this point in the Gospels, it’s still early in Jesus’ public ministry. He’s been traveling around from place to place with his disciples. He’s been teaching and working miracles and healing the sick. And many people in these surrounding areas — after witnessing his mighty deeds and hearing his words — are starting to believe in him.
So in our reading today, Jesus is coming back to his hometown of Nazareth. This is where he lived, for most of his life, in a kind of hidden way. He grew up there in obedience to the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, and he worked with Joseph as a carpenter.
The people in Nazareth recognize him. They know who is. Or at least they think they know who he is! They know him as the carpenter and the “son of Mary” and they know his brothers and sisters.
For us, we know that the Blessed Virgin Mary never had other children besides Jesus. Mary is Ever-Virgin. So we know that when the people in the Gospel today talk about Jesus having brothers and his sisters, they are really talking about his cousins and relatives.
But the point is that the people in Nazareth think they know all there is to know about Jesus.
So when they hear his teaching, at first they are surprised. It is powerful and beautiful. It is a call to conversion and holiness. And they’ve known that he has worked mighty deeds with his hands.
But they are skeptical. So we hear them in the Gospel say, “Where did this man get all this?” Isn’t he just a carpenter, the son of Mary that we all know? So where did he get these powers? Where did he get this teaching?
And they reject him. The Gospel says, “they took offense at him.”
That phrase — “took offense at him.” In the language of the Gospels, that expression means that he was a “scandal” or a “stumbling block.”
That’s interesting. A stumbling block is something that you find in the road that causes you to stumble and to fall.
So Jesus was a stumbling block to them. Why? Because they thought they knew him. They thought he was just another guy in the neighborhood. He didn’t seem much different than them. They thought he was just a man.
This happens all the time in the Bible. Again and again, God sends his prophets and messengers, but the people don’t want to hear what they have to say.
That’s what we heard in the first reading this morning, from the prophet Ezekiel. God sends Ezekiel to proclaim his Word. But he also warns the prophet that many of the people aren’t going to listen to him.
But God loves his children no matter what. He sends his prophets anyway. For some, it will prove to be an opportunity for grace. For others, a tragic loss.
There is still today that same tension — between the beauty of God’s message and the difficulty that we have in listening to it.
We see it in our society — and in our families. A lot of people can understand the wisdom of the Gospel. They know our Catholic faith has the solution and it makes sense to them as a way to live. They may feel the beauty of the Gospel. They may be attracted to the figure of Jesus.
But for some reason, there is a stumbling block. Something gets in the way. They find some excuse. They can’t bring themselves to believe in Jesus or to belong to his Church.
That’s the same problem in Nazareth. At the end of today’s Gospel passage, St. Mark says: Jesus was “amazed at their lack of faith.”
Faith, my brothers and sisters. That’s the issue! Faith is the key that opens up the door of people’s hearts. Faith is what makes it possible for Jesus to work in our lives.
We are people of faith. We have heard God’s call and we are striving to be faithful, striving for Christian perfection in our daily lives. But we want to have more faith. We want our faith to grow. So we need to ask Jesus all the time — just like his apostles did — to increase our faith.2
We don’t want to be like the people of Nazareth. Because they didn’t believe, Jesus wasn’t able to perform any mighty deeds there.
Real faith means believing in Jesus. Not only in his ideas or his teaching. Real faith means believing in him. It means believing that Jesus is more than a carpenter, more than just a human being like the rest of us.
The people of Nazareth were right: Jesus is the son of Mary. But he is more than that. He is also the Son of God.
For us, he is not a figure from history. He is alive! And real faith means having the humility to trust him and to give our lives to him.
That’s what St. Paul is talking about in the second reading for today’s Mass.
Paul is being very honest in the passage we heard this morning. He talks about how difficult it is to follow God’s call. He feels weak. He is facing insults, persecutions and hardships. But he puts all his trust in God.
That’s a lesson for us, too, my brothers and sisters.
It’s not always easy to follow our Christian vocation. We have weaknesses. We feel pressures and we have sufferings. There are many temptations in our lives today, so many things that can take us away from being the disciples of Christ that we are called to be.
But we also have the grace of God.
The promise that God made to St. Paul, he also makes to us: “My grace is sufficient for you. For power is made perfect in weakness.”
So let’s allow God’s grace to be sufficient for us. Let’s live with genuine faith in Jesus. Faith is the key! All things are possible for those who believe.3 We have to listen to his Words and let him work in our hearts. We have to trust in Jesus!
May the Blessed Virgin Mary intercede for us so that we may grow in our faith in her Son and honor him by the lives we lead for the sake of his Gospel.
1. Readings (Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B): Ezek. 2:25; Ps. 123:1-4; 2 Cor. 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6.
2. Luke 17:5.
3. Mark 9:23.