I’ve been reading a novel given to me several years ago by a friend. At one point in the story, a stray cat follows the novel’s main character home. The main character names the cat Houdini because of the cat’s uncanny ability to appear suddenly when food is being prepared in the kitchen. The cat remains hidden for most of the day but appears, as if by magic, whenever there is the possibility of being fed.
Today’s Gospel reading says that Jesus “passed through the midst of them and went away” after having been rejected by his former neighbors in Nazareth. (Lk 4:30) It is important to understand that when Jesus passed through the midst of the townsfolk, he was not performing a magic trick like the cat Houdini in the novel. Rather, this event foreshadows Jesus’ eventual rejection, betrayal, and crucifixion in Jerusalem.
In Nazareth, his friends and kin rejected the notion that he was the Messiah sent by God. Jesus was undeterred by their lack of faith; he “passed through” the faithless crowd to continue his Divinely ordained mission. Later, in Jerusalem, he was similarly undeterred by the faithlessness of the People. He completed his Divinely ordained mission by remaining faithful even in the face of death. In Nazareth, he “passed through.” In Jerusalem, he “passed over” from death to new life that we, too, might have a new life.
As I said above, when Jesus passed through the midst of the angry crowd, it was no magic act; rather, it was an expression of undeterred faithfulness in the face of the faithlessness of those around him. The Gospel author wanted to communicate to us this aspect of Jesus’ personality, namely, that he was committed wholeheartedly to fulfilling God’s saving will. As the author also wanted to encourage us to imitate Jesus’ example, it is necessary for us to understand what we are to imitate.
When Jesus passed through the crowd in Nazareth, he was not walking aimlessly. Upon leaving Nazareth, he traveled to Capernaum in Galilee and, eventually, to Jerusalem. His departure from Nazareth was the beginning of his bringing God’s saving work to conclusion. His “passing through” their midst led in a single direction: the direction marked out by God’s will.
Everyone passes through the world, but not everyone imitates Jesus’ example of passing through faithlessness to reach greater faith and new life. Today might be an opportune time to examine our lives, discern the direction our lives have taken, and ask whether we are following Jesus or our own desires.
Like Houdini the cat, it is possible for us to spend entire lives being led by our appetites. The cat in the novel appeared every time food was available in the kitchen. What gets your immediate attention? What motivates you to appear at home, at work, in church, in other public places?
Luke’s Gospel says that Jesus’ only motivation was to announce to all people the good news of reconciliation with God. The Scriptures are fulfilled for us today, just as the Scriptures were fulfilled on that day in Nazareth when Jesus was rejected by those who knew him. The Scriptures were also fulfilled for those in Capernaum who accepted him. The Scriptures were fulfilled for the people in Jerusalem who put Jesus to death and the Scriptures were fulfilled for those who put their faith in his resurrection. The difference between those various groups was the result of the direction each chose in life.
The direction we give to our lives is witness to exactly how the Scriptures are fulfilled for us. In order to pass from faithlessness to new life, we must follow Jesus who was led by God’s will to redeem the whole world.