I have an acquaintance for whom even the most minor responsibility is an unbearable burden. Responsibility is his Kryptonite: in its presence, he loses all his strength. When his family wants him to attend a family function they make certain he knows everything will be done in advance by everyone else; when they feel they don’t need his company they assign him a task to complete before the gathering. Their strategy works flawlessly.
In this Sunday’s Gospel we encounter the equivalent of Kryptonite for Jesus: a lack of faith. The Gospel says, “He was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:5-6)
It might seem strange to think of Jesus as being unable to do good for someone, but it is important to keep in mind Jesus’ definition of the word “faith.” For Jesus, “faith” meant personal loyalty; today we would call it “commitment.” Throughout the Gospels the people who understood his teaching and received healing from him were people whom he judged to be personally loyal to him. The effects of faith, namely understanding and healing, were experienced only by those who had faith in Jesus. As the residents of Nazareth put no trust in him, they were able to experience no miracles. (Mark 6:5)
There is no little irony in the lack of faith of the residents of Nazareth. They were intimately familiar with the details of Jesus’ background and family life. They knew him much better than the disciples and the crowds who followed him. They could have been expected to grasp Jesus’ identity quicker than anyone else, but they failed to do so. Isn’t it strange that those who knew Jesus for longer than anyone else didn’t really know him at all? It’s stranger still, that the people who knew him only by reputation knew him well enough to make a personal commitment to him.
The lack of faith of the residents of Nazareth was two-fold. They would not put their faith in Jesus because he was too familiar to them, but it is precisely in the familiar that God is to be found. They trusted neither Jesus nor themselves; they were unwilling to believe him, and they were unwilling to believe that they might encounter God in Jesus’ preaching and healing. Consequently, Jesus judged them to be entirely faithless.
The Gospel, then, poses this question to us, “Do you see the presence of God in your home town, in your family and in your own house?” We can be very certain that if we do not see God’s presence in the familiar relationships of our lives, we will not be able to see God’s presence anywhere.
If you’re having trouble with that notion, perhaps you can take a cue from the prophet Ezekiel. Today’s first reading is an account of Ezekiel’s call to act as a prophet from God. (Ezekiel 2:3-4) He was sent to be an example of faith to a faithless society, and he was unafraid of the challenge because he knew that God was with him. If you’re struggling to find God in the familiar aspects of your life, perhaps it is the result of being sent, but not yet having gone, to be an example of faith the world.
God calls every person to the life of faith: to a personal and ecclesial commitment to Jesus. The call to faith requires a commitment to Jesus, and a commitment to his mission to witness to the Reign of God. Unfortunately for the world, not everyone responds to the call, and accepts the responsibility to be loyal to Jesus. Even some of those who have heard the Gospel proclaimed remain lacking in faith; God’s power will find no home in their lives.
Those who respond are able to perceive God’s presence, and are sent to announce that Divine presence to the world. Our personal and ecclesial call to faith comes to us in the ordinary, familiar circumstances of our lives. When we respond to God we accept the mission to witness to faith in the ordinary, familiar circumstances of our lives. Trust in God and trust in self go hand-in-hand because faith and mission are inextricably linked in God’s plan of salvation for the world.
Jesus’ inability to perform mighty deeds in Nazareth makes perfect sense. The residents of Nazareth had faith neither in him nor in themselves. If they did not believe in the created, limited good of their own lives, how could they ever believe in uncreated, infinite good revealed in the life of Jesus? God is to be found in the ordinary, because the familiar is where we find the beginning of the awareness of good for ourselves and the world.
There is an old saying, “Charity begins at home.” Unfortunately, that saying is often quoted by those who use the familiarity of home as an excuse not to be charitable. Based on the Scripture readings this Sunday, I would propose an altered version of the saying, “The experience of God begins at home.” I would add the obvious caution: don’t let the familiarity of home be an excuse for failing to see the presence of God in your life.