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The Gospel readings of the past several Sundays have centered on Jesus as the wonder-worker. These included, for example, the story of the calming of the sea (Mk 4:35-41) and of the restoration of Jairus’s daughter to life (Mk 5:21-43). The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time moves our attention from powerful deeds to a mini-plot within the narrative that centers on the recognition of Jesus as the true shepherd of Israel. For three Sundays, the same question will be asked: Does Jesus have the credentials to lead the people of Galilee? Each Sunday provides a different response and reflection.

They may look and see but not perceive, and hear and listen but not understand. (Mk 4:12)

Liturgical day
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Ez 2:2-5, Ps 123, 2 Cor 12:7-10, Mk 6:1-6

Can you recall a time when you misjudged someone close to you?

Do you see yourself with the family of the kingdom of God?

Is there an area in your life that you tend to undervalue because it is too familiar?

Today’s readings suggest that resistance to God’s specific emissaries is a common phenomenon in Scripture. Ezekiel feels personally rejected since his message is ignored by its intended audience. “Son of Man, I am sending you to the Israelites, rebels who have rebelled against me. Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you” (Ez 2:3-4). While all prophets in Scripture face a similar obstinacy from their audience, there is a particular sting to the experience of Ezekial, who is considered the first one to deliver a message outside of Israel on foreign territory (587 B.C.) with hopes to prevent the total physical and spiritual destruction of Jerusalem.

The Gospel presents Jesus returning to his own native soil among close relatives in Nazareth. His family is not convinced enough to believe and follow after him like some new Moses for the people. They unknowingly provide very human and common credentials that tend to diminish the fame that precedes their famous brother and cousin as a worker of wonders. “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” (Mk 6:3). 

The identification of Jesus as a “carpenter” is so commonplace today that almost effortlessly one considers Jesus as the carpenter who learned his trade from his father, Joseph the carpenter. But the Greek term used here might be more accurately translated “the builder,” according to the ancient usage of the word. Jesus’ immediate family are offended that their “common contractor” is somehow a great person within the community. To them Jesus is just an ordinary builder of things.

Jesus comments on the skepticism of his incredulous neighbors with a phrase that is often misunderstood. “A prophet,” says Jesus to his audience, “is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house” (Mk 6:4). It is a colloquial saying that resembles the English proverb “Familiarity breeds contempt.” One’s focus is not meant to dwell on whether or not Jesus is in fact a true prophet. That is not the question the Gospel presents at this point in the narrative. The focus falls on Jesus’ closest kin, who are so familiar with him from growing up that they cannot see the divine presence now at work within him and around him. Jesus’ family embody the saying from earlier in the Gospel, “They may look and see but not perceive, and hear and listen but not understand” (Mk 4:12).

All this is not to put a negative light upon the natural bonds of family. In fact, in biblical culture, as in so many places today around the world, family is still the essential factor that brings meaning and joy to peoples’ lives. This Gospel, however, for some time now has been reimaging the status of family and the bonds that tie family within the kingdom of God. It is listening and responding to the good news and the messenger who brings it that define family in the kingdom. This is why the psalmist can sing the words, “Like the eyes of a maid on the hand of her mistress, so our eyes are on the Lord our God, till we are shown favor” (Ps 123:2). It is a sentiment that will be revealed in its full form next Sunday, when the disciples are sent on mission.

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