06Feb Wednesday. Feb 6th

Hbr. 12:4ff. Suffering disciplines us. So strengthen our drooping hands.

Mk. 6:1ff. The people of Nazareth reject Jesus and he could not achieve faith there.

First Reading: Hebrews 12:4-7, 11-15

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children – “My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.”

Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitteness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled.

Gospel: Mark 6:1-6

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Who listens to a prophet, anyway?

The response Jesus got when he stood up to speak in his own home town was not encouraging. Who would take him for a prophet, anyway, since he’s someone they’ve known for years? What could he have to say that they did not already know? St Mark even has the critics listing the relatives of Jesus – his “brothers and sisters” – with the implication that they were ordinary village-dwellers without any special distinction. So they did not expect any important new ideas from Jesus, either. This all-too-common response is further illustration of the depth of the Incarnation: He became like us in everything, except sin. As regards the “brothers and sisters” reference, from antiquity and in deference to faith in the perpetual virginity of Our Lady, the Church has taken them to be either “cousins” or “half-siblings”, children of Joseph from an earlier marriage. At any rate they were members of his extended family or clan, and they were at first no more disposed to listen to his sermon than were the other villagers.

Apart from the extreme scepticism in the villagers’ questions, there are a couple of other vivid and typically Markan elements in this Gospel story. “They took offence at him!” Far from the admiration so often shown to Jesus in other episodes, as in yesterday’s healing of the bleeding woman or restoring life to the daughter of Jairus, the people of Nazareth are angry at his self-assurance, his conviction that he has God’s message to spread. Then Mark adds, “He could do no powerful deed there” – it is as though their unbelief completely blocked his miraculous power. Certainly there is a vital link between faith and the ability to be healed!

For anyone who is discouraged by the apparent failure of their efforts to minister faith and love the others, there is peculiar comfort in seeing that this was the experience of Jesus too. And the author to the Hebrews adds his own brand of gruff encouragement when he writes to his fellow Jewish-Christians about the aspect of suffering and sacrifice entailed in their vocation. Trials are sent by God to test us and make us stronger, he says, adding the exhortation, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet..” if we can only persevere in what is asked of us, we will not fail to obtain the grace of God.