Readings for 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Ps. 123; Ez. 2:2-5; 2 Cor. 12:7-10; Mk. 6:1-6
Today's liturgy of the word is about prophecy, and about how difficult it is to be a prophet. Prophets are usually vilified and hated. That was the case with both Ezekiel and Jesus who are linked in today's readings.
Hearing their stories read made me think about the evident difficulty Republicans (even fervent believers) have with people like Jesus. The G.O.P. just doesn't like them.
Begin by considering Ezekiel. We find his vocation story in today's first reading. There he is warned that many will reject what God tells him to say. After all, his message was so shocking and blasphemous. At the beginning of the 6th century B.C.E., Ezekiel said that God's People had strayed so far from Yahweh that the Babylonians would come and destroy the Temple -- the very dwelling place of God. That was like predicting the death of God. In modern terms, it was atheistic.
Republicans don't like atheists.
Jesus of Nazareth was also hated right from the start. Today's second reading shows that. There Jesus finds himself a "prophet without honor" in his own home town and even among his own family members. Nazareth saw him as a hometown boy who (as they say in Kentucky where I come from) had "gotten above his raisin's."
Who did he think he was trying to teach them anything? He was that kid whose nose they had wiped growing up. He wasn't a scholar. In fact, he could barely read. He was just a working stiff carpenter. He was the son of that woman, Mary. Who knows who his father was? (By the way, the townspeople's identification Jesus by his mother's name in today's reading and not by his father's, was extremely insulting. It indicated that his father was unknown. It was like calling him a bastard or S.O.B.) So, Jesus was rejected by his neighbors and relatives in no uncertain terms. It was said that following his first sermon in Nazareth, they actually tried to kill him.
And it got worse from there. Like Ezekiel, Jesus too predicted the destruction of the Temple -- a successor to the one that was rebuilt after the Babylonians did what Ezekiel said they would -- level it to the ground. When they heard Jesus' prophecy about God's dwelling place, everyone who mattered scorned him -- the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, the Temple high priests, the Romans. In their eyes, Jesus had turned against religion. Even his disreputable mother and the brothers and sisters mentioned in today's Gospel accused Jesus of losing his mind. They thought he had gone absolutely crazy (MK 3:21).
As far as the powerful were concerned, Jesus had not only gotten above his raisin's; he was not merely (in modern terms) atheistic; he was an agent of the devil himself. Jesus was possessed. That was the worst insult anyone in Jesus' culture could deliver. It would be like calling him a terrorist or Communist today.
In fact, the Romans did consider Jesus a terrorist. That's indicated by the form of execution they used on him. Crucifixion was reserved for insurgents and terrorists. Politically and historically, it speaks volumes to say that Jesus was crucified. (What did he do to make the Romans classify him as they did?)
And yet Jesus was wildly popular among the poor and powerless outside of Nazareth. He was one of them. He looked like them. As pictured above, he was unimposing -- probably about 5'3" and weighing about 110 pounds (if we are to believe forensic archeologists). His skin was brown. His hands were calloused. And his message was tailored especially for the poor. His initial sermon in Nazareth began: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed."
That was Jesus' program -- a message of liberation for the poor.
Jesus' message then was not about himself. It centralized what he called "the Kingdom of God." His was a utopian vision of what the world would be like if God were king instead of Caesar. In that realm everything would be turned upside down. The poor would be rich; the rich would be poor; the last would be first, and the first would be last. Prostitutes would enter the kingdom; the religious leaders would trail after them. No wonder Jesus' message resonated so well among the downtrodden, the poor and sex workers. No wonder, he was feared and vilified by the rich, powerful and respectable.
And no wonder that kind of Jesus is virtually unknown today. The fact is, he continues to be disdained even by those who call themselves "Christian." I mean, right wing Christians still don't like:
- Scruffy or poor.