Christians use many labels to describe their spiritual lives. Some are simpler than others, but a simple explanation is that we Christians seek to be friends with God and to live with Him in our lives. What would it have been like to live near Jesus Christ, when He was in Nazareth for nearly thirty years? What would our reaction have been to the discovery of the Messiah and Saviour in our midst? When we read this Sunday’s Gospel, it is with surprise that we discover that the people of Nazareth wasted their opportunity to encounter their Saviour. It is true that the Saints and great writers of the Church often refer to Jesus’ time at Nazareth as his hidden life. However, this is because the Gospels do not tell us much about his time there. There is nearly a thirty-year gap in our knowledge of Christ, apart from the time when Jesus stayed in the temple for three days at twelve years of age. However, this does not mean that the people of Nazareth were unaware that there was something different about Jesus.
The people of Nazareth ask “Where does this man get his wisdom, or by whom does he work these miracles?” It is a shame to recognise something wonderful in someone and instead of being happy that someone has received great gifts to ask rather disparagingly, “do we not know this man’s brothers and sisters?” and “is he not the carpenter?” There could be many reasons why the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus. However, the sin of pride is often the cause of one’s rejection of God. This sin can be seen in the kind of questions asked by the people of Nazareth. One can see the thoughts behind such questions, “We won’t listen to a carpenter” and “his family is with us, and are we not better than them?” or even jealous thoughts, “if anyone from Nazareth should be chosen by God it should be me, not this carpenter”.
Always the Gospels invite us to question ourselves. This Sunday, we are asked to examine ourselves to see in what way we could be like the people of Nazareth, who had Jesus with them. Today, we have a lot in common with them. Jesus is still with us in the Holy Eucharist and, recently, Ireland hosted the International Eucharistic Congress. How have we as individuals failed to appreciate these wonderful opportunities to come to encounter Jesus? We can also think about the ways in which we have failed to appreciate the gifts of others.
Acknowledging and repenting of our sins is a good thing, but we must remember that this occurs at the beginning of Mass. Two weeks ago the Church celebrated the Solemnity of the birth of John the Baptist. He was sent before the Lord to call the people to conversion. Mass is “over” once we have received Christ in Holy Communion. John’s mission was over once Jesus had come. Similarly, the “mission” of repentance is over once we are with Jesus in Heaven. So, let us begin with repentance, and end with Communion. To do otherwise is to waste our opportunity to get to know Jesus Christ. It is the case that this pattern is repeated in our spiritual lives. Sin breaks our relationship with God. Grace through repentance heals the break and then we are friends with God once again.
Too often people allow themselves to be weighed down with guilt caused by their sins. So, whenever we examine our conscience, we must remember that Jesus didn’t come to condemn, but to save us. Let’s remember that the end of the Christian journey is Communion with Jesus, and not allow ourselves to be pre-occupied with thinking about our sins. Once we have repented, we must recall that God forgives easily and accept that God has forgiven our sins. So let us seize the day, and ask Jesus to come closer to us. Let us pray for those who do not recognise their Saviour, for those who have trouble accepting His forgiveness in their lives, and finally for those who are walking confidently beside Jesus that they will continue to trust in Him.