This past Sunday, before he headed out to the hospital to prepare for an operation (you can read about this on page 10 of this Anchor), Pope Francis offered a commentary on the lack of faith of the people of Nazareth when Jesus came home to visit (Mk 6:1-6).
After setting the scene, Pope Francis paraphrased the questions that were in the minds of the Nazarenes. “Where does He get all this wisdom? But, isn’t He the Son of the carpenter and Mary, that is, of our neighbors that we know so well?” (cf. vv. 1-3).
The pope then pointed out that Jesus’ response was to cite a saying which had already become part of the common parlance by His time: “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house” (v. 4).
About the people of Nazareth, the Holy Father said, “We could say they knew Jesus, but they did not recognize Him. There is a difference between knowing and recognizing. In essence, this difference makes us understand that we can know various things about a person, form an idea, rely on what others say about that person, we might perhaps meet that person every now and then in the neighborhood; but all that is not enough. This is a knowledge, I would say ordinary, superficial, that does not recognize the uniqueness of the person. We all run this risk: we think we know so much about a person, even worse, we use labels and close the person within our own prejudices. Jesus’ fellow villagers knew Him for 30 years in the same way and they thought they knew everything!”
The pope termed their approach to Jesus as one of “distrust … in reality, they never realized Who Jesus truly was. They remained at the exterior level and refused what was new about Jesus.”
The pontiff then discussed “the true crux of the problem” for us today: “when we allow the convenience of habit and the dictatorship of prejudice to have the upper hand, it is difficult to open ourselves to what is new and allow ourselves to be amazed. It often happens in life that we seek from our experiences and even from people only what conforms to our own ideas and ways of thinking so as never to have to make an effort to change. And this can even happen with God, and even to us believers, to us who think we know Jesus, that we already know so much about Him and that it is enough to repeat the same things as always. And this is not enough with God. But without openness to what is new and, above all — listen well — openness to God’s surprises, without amazement, faith becomes a tiring litany that slowly dies out and becomes a habit, a social habit.”
Pope Francis then spoke about “what is amazement? Amazement happens when we meet God. We read in the Gospel: many times the people who encountered Jesus and recognized Him felt amazed. And we, by encountering God, must follow this path: to feel amazement. It is like the guarantee certificate that the encounter is true and not habitual.”
The pope then offered a reason as to why the Nazarenes didn’t recognize Jesus. “In a few words, we can say that they did not accept the scandal of the Incarnation. They did not know this mystery of the Incarnation. [T]hey thought it was scandalous that the immensity of God should be revealed in the smallness of our flesh, that the Son of God should be the son of a carpenter, that the Divine should be hidden in the human, that God should inhabit a face, the words, the gestures of a simple man. This is the scandal: the Incarnation of God, His concreteness, His ‘daily life.’ And God became concrete in a man, Jesus of Nazareth, He became a companion on the way, He made himself one of us. ‘You are one of us,’ we can say to Jesus. What a beautiful prayer! It is because One of us understands us, accompanies us, forgives us, loves us so much. In reality, an abstract, distant god is more comfortable, one that doesn’t get himself involved in situations and who accepts a faith that is far from life, from problems, from society. Or we would even like to believe in a ‘special effects’ god who does only exceptional things and always provokes strong emotions. Instead, brothers and sisters, God incarnated Himself: God is humble, God is tender, God is hidden, He draws near to us, living the normality of our daily life.”
The pope warned that we can fall into the sin of the Nazarenes. “We risk that when He passes by, we will not recognize Him. I repeat that beautiful phrase from St. Augustine: ‘I am afraid of God, of the Lord, when He passes by.’ But, Augustine, why are you afraid? ‘I am afraid of not recognizing Him.’ I am afraid that when the Lord passes by: Timeo Dominum transeuntem. We do not recognize Him, we are scandalized by Him.”
To resist this temptation we should ask for the help of the Blessed Mother. “Let us ask the Madonna, who welcomed the mystery of God in her daily life in Nazareth, for eyes and hearts free of prejudices and to have eyes open to be amazed [by the] Lord that He might meet you! And when we encounter the Lord there is this amazement. We meet Him in the normal: eyes open to God’s surprises, at His humble and hidden presence in daily life.”
At the end of this talk in St. Peter’s Square, after praying the Angelus with the crowd and giving some “shout outs” to pilgrim groups, the pope said, “And please do not forget to pray for me.” May we do so, asking God to help him (and us) always recognize when Christ is passing by.