Sunday, July 7, 2024


Where did this man get all this? Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary?
Are his relatives not here with us? And they took offense at him!
Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place."\
Mark 6:1-6

Let me get right to the point! I resonated right away when I read this gospel in preparation for this homily because I am very familiar with how Jesus felt in this story. It is a story about how "familiarity breeds contempt." I have been there and experienced that! Before telling you about my experience, and referring to some of your experiences, let me tell you about how this scene unfolded and then I will end with suggesting to you what we could all learn from it!

By coming home to Nazareth, Jesus surely knew that he was about to face his severest critics since everyone knew him and his family all too well! He wasn't just there to see his old hometown and visit some family members. By coming home, surrounded by his disciples, he came as a rabbi! He came, not as a carpenter, but as a teacher! His teaching was met with a kind of contempt - sort of "we know you" and "who do you think you are?" They were scandalized that a man who had come from such a humble background would speak the way he spoke and do the things he was doing! It says their response to him was this not "welcome home," but "they took offense at him!"

They would not give him a warm welcome and listen to him for two reasons. He was just a humble carpenter. He was a just simple man of the people. He was just a layman and there here he was, up in the synagogue pulpit, preaching to the very people who had known him from childhood! They were too familiar with Jesus to realize his greatness! It just went "over their heads!" 

What was Jesus's response to the response he was getting? He quoted an old saying they would have all been familiar with! "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house." Their response was so crippling for Jesus that we are told that "he was not able to perform any mighty deed there," as he had done in other places. This episode ends with Jesus being "amazed at their lack of faith" and ultimately moving on to teach in the other villages of the vicinity.

I, too, came from a humble background. Rhodelia had about 27 residents when I was growing up. I was told by one of my teachers, as an altar boy, that I would "probably never be any good around the altar." As a high school seminarian, I was called a "hopeless case" by the minor seminary rector who threatened to send me home.  As an ordained priest, one of my fellow priests here in Louisville said about my list of published books, "Oh! That Knott! He has never had a thought that he didn't publish!" As a priest, I have had several amazing experiences: from a home missionary to a country pastor, from a Cathedral rector to a weekly columnist, from a vocation director to a campus minister, from a seminary staff member to a parish mission preacher, from an international priest convocation speaker to a volunteer foreign missionary in the Caribbean. I have had amazing support from lay people, from the community at large and from a variety of parishioners, but a strange silence from most of my fellow priests here at home. I have noticed it, but I never let it bother me all that much! Lay people and priests from other dioceses have given me the support I have needed! I have always understood the truism that "a prophet is not without honor except in his native place." As the world-famous Chicago priest writer, Father Andrew Greeley, once wrote about his own experience as a diocesan priest from Chicago, “To be a member of good standing, a priest must try not to be too good at anything or to express unusual views or criticize accepted practices or even to read too much. Some ideas are all right, but too many ideas are dangerous.” When he won a prestigious national award for his published writing, I wrote to congratulate him. He wrote back, believe it or not, telling me that from the 900 or so priests of Chicago, he had heard from only two priests – the Archbishop of Chicago and me!  Indeed, “a prophet is not without honor except in his native place." 

Now, what can we all learn from this gospel with its message that "familiarity breeds contempt?"

First, I am reminded of that quote from Mark Twain that every parent of a teenager can resonate with! At that age, they begin to have contempt for what has grown so familiar and begin to separate from what they know into a self-actualized person. Surely, this sounds familiar to many of the parents here today? Mark Twain wrote, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

Second, during my project of turning my old parish grade school the last couple of years, I was amazed at how many people who grew up in that little community and could not wait to get out, all of a sudden got very interested in preserving their history. As they walked down its old hallways and saw their old photos displayed on new canvasses, the contempt they had for their humble backgrounds, all of a sudden, became prized nostalgic memories they wanted so badly to preserve! I learned, too, that so many of them have also made plans to be buried "back home" in the community they so long ago wanted to escape, just as I have done! I am reminded of the old country song, "The Green Grass of Home." Here are a few of the lyrics from the Tom Jones version. "The old home town looks the same as I step down from the train. It's good to touch the green, green grass of home. The old house is still standing tho' the paint is cracked and dry. And there's that old oak tree that I used to play on. Yes, they'll all come to see me in the shade of that old oak tree as they lay me 'neath the green, green grass of home."

Third, how many times have we priests been called to the hospital to anoint a non-practicing Catholic who is desperate to reconnect to the faith they had rejected and for which they had shown so much contempt! It is always a "sacred moment" to be able to assure them that they may have turned away from the church, but God had never turned away from them! I like to read them the story we call "The Prodigal Son," which should be called the story of "the Loving Father." The wayward son in that parable, who had shown such contempt for his father and his own home, is not the hero of the story simply because he came home! The hero is God who had been watching the road all along for his little boy to come home so that he could again shower him with hugs and kisses!

My friends, just as the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus because they thought they knew everything about him, and their perceptions were so low, many of us become so familiar with what we think we know about other people, what we think about familiar situations and what we think about the things of the past, that we miss the miracles and wonders right under our noses! As the famous British-Indian scientist, J.B.S. Haldane, once said, "The world shall perish, not for a lack of wonders, but from our lack of wonder!" This is why Jesus began his ministry, not with changing things, but with calling people to change the way they see things and other people– the wonders right in front of us! 






































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