A prophet is not accepted in his own town
I would like to draw out three aspects of today’s Gospel - a phenomenon called tall poppy syndrome; kill the messenger rather than change; and the root of all these, hardness of heart, and its cause and effects.
In an ancient story there was a king who was asked the difference between a monarchy and democracy. To demonstrate, the king went out in the field and proceeded to chop the heads off of any wheat that was higher than the others. The king said, “That is monarchy.” When asked what a democracy is in that case, the king replied, “In a democracy the wheat itself cuts off the heads of the ones that grow higher.”
I believe in life we all like to know great people. The people of Jesus’ time were proud of their son. He gave the backwoods town of Nazareth prestige, similar to Carey Price who drew up in the small town of Anahim Lake (goaltender for the Montreal Canadian’s hockey team). People are proud of great individuals that grow up among them. They talk about them, and are content with being “great” vicariously through them. Many parents try to make their children famous so they can live through them, enjoying that fame. They feel they have possession of their children’s greatest, yet sadly often in unhealthy ways. Jesus would have given His hometown a great deal of prestige. Yet, what do we, and what did the people of Jesus’ hometown, want our “great” ones to do for us? Most often we want them to bless us, certainly not to challenge us. Jesus went on to make the classic blunder of encouraging the people to rise to greatness. I am not actually saying that Jesus is wrong in this, but the reality is that most of us tend to prefer easy fame, rather than the type you have to earn. We see in another passage how the people Jesus is encouraging gets so angry that they try to throw him off a cliff. They have the attitude towards him that says, “You are one of us. How dare you tell us to be better?! We are no different from you. We live in the same place. How dare you show yourself better than us?! You are the son of a carpenter, the son of Mary, some of your relatives are right here. How dare you get all uppity?!” Are we able to handle greatness among us? The answer seems to be yes . . . if it gives us prestige, however we struggle to stomach it when it calls us on to greatness. We have giants among us right now. People that you know. We have people in our very church family who have touched saints, worked miracles, prophesied, some are even related to saints. We have those who through the grace of God been healed or overcome addictions. The truth is we all have greatness in us and we all, myself included, need to be called forth as Jesus is indeed calling us forth. Let us not cut each other’s heads off but rather encourage the greatness. As Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
When we don’t want to change we will often try to discredit the messenger instead. The Catholic Church has suffered much character assassination in an attempt to silence her voice. The media and many educational institutions and political systems have spent legions of energy hoping to discredit the Church. They cannot, however, win in the area of truth. Often these institutions aren’t even willing to debate us. Instead they use the technique of shouting people down. Blessed Rupert Myer was a Jesuit priest in Germany. Before World War One, he often debated with the Communists and they would let him. During WWI he was a war hero and lost his leg while saving men, many of whom he carried to safety on his own back. (Ah the days before the c spine). After the Nazis had taken over, he once again tried to enter into debate with them in order to show them the errors of their ways. Their idea of allowing him to debate with them was simply to shout him down by chanting slogans. The culture of death employs the same technique. We never lose the debate because truth is on our side, and so they don’t even want to debate us. They discount us by saying we are hateful or bigots or afraid or play the “Those celibate men in Rome are trying to control you” card. Ironically, they themselves are actually being controlled for a purpose. They are not critically thinking, and what they think they are liberating themselves from is actually enslaving them. I recently read an article in a secular website about a woman who regulates her birth naturally. She said that after researching the negative side effects of contraception, she felt she wanted to work with her body instead of against it. She said it is a little more work but she feels great working with the natural cycles of her body. I had to laugh at this, as this is what the Church has promoted all along and now people are finally discovering the truth of it. Every teaching is like that in the Church. If we are willing to learn and pray and reflect, we will see the Church’s teachings are a call to greatness and health and love. We need to watch ourselves when we see we are attacking the messenger. We need to watch our hearts and ask ourselves “Why am I doing this? What am I afraid of?” When our heart attacks the messenger, it is a sign of a hardened heart.
This in fact is the heart of the matter - our hardness of heart. In the first reading it talked about a rebellious people. Have you ever presented to an audience that all had their arms crossed? I have. When we cross our arms, it means we are in a defensive position, meaning we are afraid. I believe the heart of the matter when it comes right down to it, is fear. Fear is why our heart is hard. We have been wounded, betrayed, rejected, discounted, and deceived and so forth. When we experience this pain it causes us to make promises to ourselves never to allow that to happen again. We stop trusting and places in our heart become as hard as a rock, or even the whole thing does. This is a serious problem because this hardness of heart stops love, and love is the most important part of our faith. To start to feel the love again we have to heal and refuse to be afraid. We need not fear. We have unconditional love on our side loving us, rooting for us, working with us. How then do we win the battle of the hard heart? In my life I have learnt many things about healing and I am sure I will learn many more. One thing I have learnt already is that we don’t need to fear our inclinations, even if they are unhealthy inclinations and not ordered to nature or to God’s plan. I don’t believe anyone willingly chooses a disordered inclination. They are rather like St Paul says, a thorn in the flesh to keep us from being too elated. No one ever says, “Wow, I think it would be a great thing to be a raving alcoholic” or a pedophile or any other form of unnatural desire. This doesn’t mean that we are not responsible if we act out on our inclinations, only that we didn’t choose them and we can learn from them. If I continually run from my inclinations, I will never allow healing in that area. We should run from sin, but our inclinations themselves are not sins. They are teaching and growing points in our lives, and areas that God can heal, that God wants to heal. If we always have a reaction to individuals, for instance if I am eating and the person across from me is making annoying noises, I can ask myself, “Why is this bothering me? What wound or unsatisfaction is coming up in my life.” If you are losing it in traffic all the time, it is not because traffic is bad, but rather because your heart is disturbed and you need to take it to the doctor. If someone says something and it bothers you, unless it is crude or degrading, you need to go to the heart doctor - Jesus. Our openness to healing brings health. If we never go to a doctor and are not looking after our heart, we will be very sick in our heart, which will lead to the hardening of our love arteries and prevent love flowing into our lives. A healthy person can give and receive love in a healthy way. We should not fear - what we bring to God He can and will heal. Sin often is that start of this, just as much as confession heals this. Once a psychiatrist asked Cardinal Dolan if the number of confessions are going down, to which he answered yes. The psychiatrist replied “Well that is good for us, bad for the people. I cannot forgive sin, only help them live with it.” Translation - I can’t heal them, I can only rent them a pair of crutches. The prescription for the hard heart is forgiveness of sins and taking the wounds to God. Ask God, “Why am I thinking this or doing this?” When you discover a wound, take it to the Divine Physician, God. Let our hearts be healed so we can love and receive love.