Have you ever imagined yourself among the crowds to whom Jesus spoke?
It’s a time-honored spiritual practice to read the Gospels, and imagine yourself in the scene, knowing that He is still speaking. The Word of God is still active, and reaching our hearts.
But have you ever had the experience of reading the passage, and feeling bothered by the response to Jesus?
Sometimes, it’s profound and painful, as when we must speak the words of the crowds in the passion narrative, and say “Crucify Him!” Sometimes, it’s just annoying. We want to say: “How could they miss this?” They had the Lord in front of them, and they completely botched the whole thing.
One such encounter occurs in the Gospel of Mark chapter 6. Until that moment, Jesus had displayed His power over nature, over evil, and over suffering, sickness and death. He was on a winning streak, until He returned home to His “native place” of Nazareth.
There, Jesus seems to have met His match, but it was not the forces of Satan that stymied Him. Rather, it was his old neighbors, who were already familiar with Him – people who were ostensibly waiting desperately for the coming of the Messiah, but their familiarity with Him was an obstacle.
They were offended by Him and asked “Where did this man get all this?”
He didn’t meet the expectations they had. As a consequence, Jesus wasn’t able to work many miracles there.
We mustn’t be so quick to judge the crowds who resisted Jesus. If we’re honest, we need to acknowledge that we can also be familiar with Jesus. We might even cherry-pick a few of our favorite traits, and fashion our own image of Him, forming expectations of the way He ought to respond to us.
And through it all, what is most striking to me is the humility of Christ.
The classic passage that describes His humility is found in St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. “Though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8 RSV-CE).
The Lord God of Heaven and Earth became man. We take this staggering truth for granted, but ought to reflect on the enormous gap between God and man, and the humble condescension of Christ. He made Himself vulnerable to the rejection and abuse of evil men.
Evidence of His humility persists every day, in all of our churches.
Christ continues to humble Himself before us, again and again, coming to us in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, under the appearance of simple bread and wine.
He is really and truly present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, yet He makes Himself vulnerable to abuse by His enemies, and vulnerable to indifference by those of us who count ourselves among His friends.
Why does He do this? He simply wants us to be united with Him in this life, and in the life to come. He risks rejection to achieve this union.
In this Year of the Real Presence, may we take time to reflect on the humility of Christ, and to imitate that humility. May we come before Him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation to repent of our indifference, so as to be made ready and whole, as we receive Him in Holy Communion.
By Father John Maria, Parochial Administrator of St. Mary, Kutztown and Sacramental Ministry at St. Christopher Catholic Newman Center, Kutztown University.