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They Took Offense At Him: Courageous Christians Needed. Are We Willing to Lose Human Respect?
By Deacon Keith Fournier
August 4th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
This was his first visit to Nazareth, his own hometown, after He began His public ministry. In the ordinariness of His Sacred Humanity, He was simply too much for them. They took offense at God Incarnate! After all, he was the son of a carpenter, and his extended family lived in the neighborhood! How could He preach this kind of message of repentance? How could he work miracles? So it is with those who bear His name - Christians - if we truly seek to walk in His ways, to participate in His ongoing redemptive mission, to be faithful to His continued work, through His Body, the Church, of which we are members. They will - they do - take offense at us!
"Jesus came to his native place and taught the people in their synagogue. They were astonished and said, "Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds? Is he not the carpenter's son? Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Are not his sisters all with us? Where did this man get all this?" And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house." And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith." (Matt. 13:54 - 58)
Some readers will remember the signature line of a comedian and character actor named Rodney Dangerfield who died almost ten years ago, " I don't get no respect." Well, this account of Jesus was not an isolated event. Those who should have recognized who He was, were so blinded by their own sin, egocentricity and pride that they failed to recognize their own visitation from God. Jesus did not get any respect. he continues to face the same rejection in our own age as His Church is rejected.
This was his first visit to Nazareth, his own hometown, after He began His public ministry. In the ordinariness of His Sacred Humanity, He was simply too much for them. They took offense at God Incarnate! After all, he was the son of a carpenter, and his extended family lived in the neighborhood! How could He preach this kind of message of repentance? How could he work miracles? Other Gospel accounts communicate this same kind of spiritual blindness evidenced in those who should have welcomed Him. Mark writes that many of his neighbors took him for a madman! (Mk. 3:21)
So it is with those who bear His name - Christians - if we truly seek to walk in His ways, to participate in His ongoing redemptive mission, to be faithful to His continued work, through His Body, the Church, of which we are members. They will - they do - take offense at us! We are living in a new pagan culture which has forgotten God and is rejecting the exiotence of any truths. For some in our own time, our faith annoys them. Our claims of the existence of universal truths about the dignity of all human life, marriage as solely possible between one man and one woman, the primacy of religious freedom and our obligations to one another, and most especially the poor, can cause serious and aggressive reactions.
These words of Jesus, also recorded by Matthew, should echo in our hearts, draw us to our knees, and add steel to our spines, "Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven". (Matt. 10:32) For most of us, this will not, at least yet, mean physical harm. It may mean being mocked, suffering calumny, being discriminated against, losing fair-weather friends and seeing career doors closed because we will not compromise the truth. Are we willing to lose human respect?
On Saturday, we heard Matthews account of the Martyrdom of John the Baptizer, the forerunner, the last Prophet of the Old Testament and the first of the New: "Herod the tetrarch heard of the reputation of Jesus and said to his servants, "This man is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him." Now Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, for John had said to him, "It is not lawful for you to have her."
"Although he wanted to kill him, he feared the people, for they regarded him as a prophet. But at a birthday celebration for Herod, the daughter of Herodias performed a dance before the guests and delighted Herod so much that he swore to give her whatever she might ask for. Prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist."
"The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests who were present, he ordered that it be given, and he had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who took it to her mother. His disciples came and took away the corpse and buried him; and they went and told Jesus." (Matt. 14:1-12)
John would not back down concerning the truth about marriage. He faced a ruler who became outraged over that fact and turned the wrath of his worldly power against him. When John became aware that his life was in danger, he could have remained silent. But he knew, as we do, that the truths we proclaim are not just our "religious convictions", they are revealed by God through a Natural Moral Law. They pave the path to freedom and goodness for every man, woman, child and culture. He was a man willing to lose human respect. He also lost his life. Are willing to imitate his courage in our own day?
Matthews Gospel records the words of John as he began his public ministry and mission, "I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." (Mt. 3:11) John is called the forerunner because he preceded and announced the coming of the Messiah. Now, every Christian is a forerunner. We announce that Christ has been raised and is here in our midst. We announce that he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and His kingdom will have no end. Like John, called to courageous discipleship.
Our image of John is often as the austere ascetic, the odd fellow who lived in the desert eating a strange diet and thundering to Israel about repentance. We forget the joy that was associated with his birth and the happiness which accompanied his prophetic life and vocation. Because He focused on Jesus, he experienced true freedom and happiness. He is held out to us as an example in order to show us the how we can focus on Jesus as well, and thus find the joy for which we truly long. John said yes - to who he was - and to who he was called to become - through responding to God's invitation. In that he is an example for each one of us.
Living in his mother's womb, this last Prophet of the Old Testament and First Prophet of the New, John the Baptizer and Forerunner responded to the arrival of Jesus the Savior with a dance of Joy. The Evangelist St. John records John the Baptizer later explaining the reason for his joy, "The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease." (John 1:29 - 30) The Baptizer was a man of Joy because he was a man of true humility!
John understood that life wasn't all about him. He emptied himself willingly. His humility opened a space within him for true joy to take root and set him free! John is a sign of contradiction for an age drunk on self worship and lost in narcissistic self absorption. He points to the path of true freedom, living a lifestyle of self emptying." He must increase and I must decrease". This is the attitude, the disposition, the way of life which can lead each of us into to true freedom. This is the path to becoming the new creation we are called to become by living "in Christ". (2 Cor. 5:17)
John is a man to be imitated. We can learn from him how to live our lives as joyful penitents; ever aware of our utter dependency on God's grace at every moment and ever aware of our sin. It is sin which leads us into slavery and takes away our joy. Only by being freed from its entanglements can we become truly happy and free. (See, Romans 6: 6, 7 and Gal. 5:1) John points to Jesus in his birth, his life and his martyr's death.
He also shows us our own path of courage by not succumbing to the fear of tyrants in our own time. He was unafraid of Herod because he drew upon the courage which comes from God! Courageous Christians are needed in our times, when life is no longer respected, marriage is profaned, religious freedom denied and the very existence of objective moral values mocked. These are our times. Are We Willing to Lose Human Respect?
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