Mark 6, 1-6
Translation Louise Thunin
Here is Jesus, unable to win over the people of his village, who go from astonishment to rejection. As for us, let us not fear to lose our bearings but rather open our lives to amazement.
It is Jesus’ only failure, unique in the Gospels, ending in this disenchanted acknowledgement of impotence : And he marveled because of their unbelief.. In the Nazareth synagogue, Jesus takes the floor. The author did not record what he said, just the reactions of the audience : the crowd is astonished, struck by his teaching. After this astonishment, rejection. Why ? Everything hinges on this question : 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 ? Jesus, whose family lives in the village, is too lacking in exoticism for anyone to go so far as to be amazed by him. The scandalous part is the contrast between the banality of his status and the extraordinariness of his words. Hence the dynamic of refusal, which renders any conversion, any miracles impossible.
Why ? Is it jealousy, the common cause of all violence since Cain and Abel, where I cannot bear that someone like me should appear to surpass me ? Or is it a feeling of abnormity ? We were indeed expecting a providential being who was supposed to change everything, but his glorious appearance and his mysterious origins were to reveal beyond all doubt the divine character of his mission. He couldn’t possibly have played with all the children in the village and look like us. Moreover, let us consider all the later efforts to render his birth uncommon by making it divine. Or could the cause of this refusal simply be fear ? In the Gospels, fear is often the contrary of faith. Difference frightens us, especially when it arises out of the quotidian, for it threatens order and habit. And astonishment turns into hatred and rejection.
It is difficult nowadays to be astonished or to astonish others. Our ability to be surprised wanes as we age. Hence the closeness of children to the mysterious dream that the gospel calls the Kingdom.
The worst thing that can happen is to be blasé, that is, to lose our capacity to be amazed. Many seek ever farther this lost amazement, without which life is dull and gray, in travel to far-away destinations or in experiences of the extreme. Artists, entertainers and journalists well know that they must surprise us, and that that is becoming more and more difficult. In fact, they seek in the areas of extreme violence, misery or horror, rather than marvel at beauty, love, generosity or forgiveness freely granted. And all the breaking off from the ordinary that we accept in a film, a book or a newspaper must not enter everyday life, where it becomes unbearable, or at best ridiculous, no doubt due to fear, to our lack of faith, of confidence.
To be a Christian is perhaps simply to agree to being amazed, to being drawn away from the immobility of the present in a movement toward the future, and also to lose our fear of surprising others. What characterizes the gospel is that it is unclassifiable ; it cannot be claimed by any one group. Dogma, morals and theology which consider themselves as immutable are but a reassuring simplification in meaning, attempting to express in words, acts, or through reason what is beyond them and will always be beyond them.
Where did this man get all this ? ask the inhabitants of Nazareth. They feel that something there comes from elsewhere, from higher up or deeper down, an unknown that upsets them, that shakes up habits and certainties, that one must therefore cage in or chase away. Religion often tries to introduce a wild and free God into places, times, words and acts apart from the everyday. We need to learn how to let Him out, so that His extravagance and His freedom spread into all realms of life.
As Christmas approaches, les us remember the beautiful story of the shepherds, dazzled by the angel (Luke 2 : 18), who come together before the manger. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. Thus, unheard-of words in the mouths of ordinary men inaugurate the era of amazement.
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