Last Sunday, Guardian Angels Catholic School invited the families of students who will enter Kindergarten in the Fall to attend a “Kindergarten Roundup.” The event featured pony rides, a petting zoo, and information about Guardian Angels’ Kindergarten program.
I don’t know how the event turned out, but I know that the outcome was not what I expected. When I heard the phrase “Kindergarten Roundup,” I envisioned something quite different from the event’s description.
I imagined majestic herds of Kindergartners, grazing contentedly on verdant hillsides under the watchful gaze of grizzled classroom aides on horseback. As the sun set in dazzling glory behind the hills, the Kindergartners would be rounded up and led into a corral where they would low themselves into peaceful slumber.
I misunderstood the meaning of the event’s title, and the misunderstanding was entirely my fault. I mention this because it provides a perspective from which to understand today’s Gospel reading.
After Jesus healed the woman with the hemorrhage and raised the little girl from death (last Sunday’s Gospel reading), he set out toward his hometown. When he arrived in Nazareth, he repeated his typical routine: he went into the Synagogue to teach the assembly. (Mk 6:2) The crowd was surprised, amazed – even shocked – by the profundity of Jesus’ preaching. Then, they began to have doubts about him. They commented to one another, “Where did this man get all this?” (Mk. 6:2) The Gospel says that Jesus’ former neighbors “took offense at him.” (Mk. 6:3)
The residents of Nazareth couldn’t think of Jesus in any terms other than their past experience of him and his family. In their minds, Jesus would be forever the kid who lived at the edge of town, the one whose father as a common laborer. (Mk. 6:3) Their narrow viewpoint and their unwillingness to see Jesus in a new light made them incapable of understanding his true identity. They misunderstood Jesus, and their misunderstanding was entirely their own fault.
The depth of misunderstanding on the part of the residents of Nazareth was so profound that Jesus was overcome with surprise by their unbelief. (Mk. 6:6) Scripture commentators debate the meaning of the statement that “he was not able to perform any mighty deed there.” (Mk. 6:5) Some commentators say that the people’s lack of faith prevented them from receiving any miracles; others say that Jesus’ disappointment with them discouraged him from pursuing his usual activities. Regardless of the cause for his working no might deeds, the lesson of this story is obvious: the residents of Nazareth failed to understand what Jairus (the man with the dying daughter) and the woman with the hemorrhage understood clearly, namely, that Jesus was sent by God to teach us to live righteous lives. The author of Mark’s Gospel intended this story to be instruction and admonition for all the baptized.
There are many opinions about Jesus’ true identity. Some people see Jesus as a stern judge who relishes the thought of condemning sinners. Others take the opposite view – that Jesus is a really nice guy who doesn’t care about sin as long as the sinners were well-intentioned. Some people view Jesus as so disinterested in human affairs that he has to be coaxed or coerced into granting Divine favor to God’s People. Others see Jesus as nothing more than an extension of their own personalities and their tendencies toward concupiscence.
These above are misunderstandings of the person and work of Jesus. In fact, all images of Jesus, except one, are misunderstandings. The Scriptures proclaim Jesus as the embodiment of God’s mercy. Today’s Gospel reading, for example, proclaims Jesus to be the source of healing and forgiveness; any understanding of Jesus that does not accord with this image is false and entirely the fault of the one who embraces it.
Jesus is the one sent by God to teach all people how to live righteous and just lives. The healing stories in the Gospels are like parables in that they teach (through actions) the nature of a righteous life. The daughter of Jairus and the woman with the hemorrhage (in last Sunday’s Gospel reading), and the sick whom Jesus cured in today’s Gospel reading, are illustrations of the effects of being in a right relationship with God: a righteous and just life is one lived in harmony with other people.
Some people reject faith in Jesus because they think that the stories of his miraculous healings are fairy tales. Other people reject faith in Jesus because they believe fairy tales are real and find themselves disappointed when they don’t get magical help from heaven. Those who understand Jesus’ identity understand that miracles are teaching signs that indicate the nature of holiness, namely, that holiness is manifest in healthy, responsible, charitable, and forgiving relationships with all people. If you don’t understand this, you have misunderstood the nature of religious faith.