Welcome to our virtual book club! We're reading Fr. James Martin’s bestseller, Jesus: A Pilgrimage. Each week we will tackle a chapter and look forward to a lively discussion together.
Rejection. Who hasn’t feared it, dreaded it, lived through it? And isn’t it the worst when it comes from the people you know and love best?
Just this past weekend I spent time with family members in Chicago for a special occasion. At one point my nephew was giving us a guided tour of the city. The conversation turned to religion and I started to wince. There were the quietly disparaging remarks, the uninformed opinions, the lack of understanding. There was the assumption that people of faith are exclusionary, that they are rigid in their way of thinking.
It began to feel suffocating in the car and I longed to get out. I couldn’t think of anything to say that would change their minds (until several days later when I’d had a chance to think about it). I’m just no good thinking on my feet. I couldn’t even pray. All I could do was feel very sad.
How did Jesus feel being soundly rejected by all the people he grew up with? Fr. Martin described Jesus as “popular”:
“Jesus was sought after, popular as in the original Latin popularis—belonging to, accepted by, the people.” (pg. 111, e-book)
While he was referring to Jesus in his ministry it’s probable he was well-liked by his own kin as well.
When Jesus stood to read the scripture and then sat to comment on it, Fr. Martin writes,
“When they saw Jesus stand up in the gathering on the Sabbath, some of those in attendance in Nazareth may have thought, There is my friend Jesus, I wonder what he’ll say. He always has something interesting to say about Scripture. Or, I wonder where Jesus has been for the last few weeks. Someone said something about the desert. He’s probably thinking about joining the Baptist—he’s always been that devout. Or, There is Mary and Joseph’s son. I remember him when he was a little boy, and even before, when here was all that trouble over his birth. Or perhaps, There’s my carpenter. I haven’t seen him in a few weeks. I wonder when he’s going to start that job! (Remember that in the Gospels people in the area refer to Jesus more frequently as “the carpenter” then they do “the rabbi”).” (pg. 113)
Jesus was proclaiming the best news anyone could hear: this scripture was being fulfilled in their hearing. The long-awaited reign of God was here, standing right in front of them! The reign of God encompassed all the other messages associated with Jesus' teaching and ministry: loving your enemies, offering forgiveness, caring for the poor, healing the sick, etc. Jesus thus embodied healing, teaching, touching, loving, friendship, fellowship, righteousness, power, courage and justice. It required his kin to see their brother and friend in a whole new way.
Initially the people of Nazareth were impressed with Jesus' knowledge and grace. Undoubtedly there was magnetism about him. But when they start to parse his words and recall that he was, in fact, one of them, then they took offense at him.
“They cannot get over the fact that someone from their hometown is saying and doing these things. They move quickly from amazement to anger. Jealously may have played a role as well.” (pg. 116).
What is it about the family dynamic that causes a larger vision to shrink like this? Why is our family so critical of what we do when people outside of our families praise what we do?
Jesus was not immune to these feelings:
“Mark’s earlier version is more poignant—you can almost feel Jesus’ sorrow in having to say what he is about to say. In Greek his words could be translated as ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his native land (patridi), and among his relatives, and in his own house (oikia).’ Imagine the combination of sadness and pity he must have felt uttering these words before his closest friends and his family.” (pg. 116)
I can imagine his feelings; I just wish I had the courage to stand up for my beliefs. Instead I clam up. Jesus spoke the truth and overcame his desire to be loved by his kin; the truth was worth the sacrifice. Being human however, it had to hurt. The people of Nazareth, often like our own families, locked Jesus into their own preconceived notion of what they thought he should be and would not accept the idea that he had grown way beyond that.
So how do we get beyond this problem? What did Jesus do? Father Martin confessed his own problems with needing to be liked and the wise counsel of his spiritual director to meditate on the rejection at Nazareth and how Jesus carried on despite that rejection. Father Martin said that mediation freed him. Perhaps it can free us too.
I struggle at great deal with this as I am sure many of you do. It prevents me from being bold in my work, prevents excellence. It makes me cowardly, denying Jesus, hiding him from others. It makes my heart small. It’s become a second nature act that is hard to stop without true mindfulness of what it means. Fr. Martin called it a prison, one of our own making.
His last paragraph in this chapter gave me hope:
“ … the story of the Rejection at Nazareth enabled me to reject the need for approval. Now I worry far less about being loved or even liked. Jesus in Nazareth freed me from that particular prison. The tektōn’s freedom gave me the freedom to be free. As he said on that day, he had come to ‘proclaim release to the captives.’ Including, in a way, this one.”
To Ponder, Reflect, and Discuss:
- How do you feel when your family misunderstands you? How do you react?
- How do you respond when people criticize your faith? How do you feel when family members take issue with your religious beliefs?
- What can you derive from the Rejection of Nazareth that will help you overcome your need to be liked?
Feel free to comment on your own thoughts from this week's reading, your impressions and reflections, and/or your answers to these questions.
Next week, we'll cover Chapter 7: Galilee. For the complete reading schedule and information about our Book Club, visit the Jesus Book Club page.
Copyright 2014 Susan W. Bailey
About the Author
Susan Bailey is the author of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times (Ave Maria Press), and Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message (ACTA Publications), part of their Literary Portals to Prayer series. Along with her blogs Be as One and Louisa May Alcott is My Passion, Susan writes for the Diocese of Worcester newspaper, The Catholic Free Press.